Top 20 Countdown: No. 1 Jimmie Johnson

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2011 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked five NASCAR journalists – Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports), Jenna Fryer (Associated Press), Dustin Long (Landmark Newspapers) and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2011 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 11 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

(Getty Images)

2010 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
1 2 6 17 23
The countdown
No. 20: David Reutimann   |   Career stats
No. 19: Kasey Kahne   |   Career stats
No. 18: Mark Martin   |   Career stats
No. 17: Ryan Newman   |   Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Joey Logano   |   Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Jeff Burton   |   Career stats
No. 13: Jamie McMurray   |   Career stats
No. 12: Kurt Busch   |   Career stats
No. 10: Clint Bowyer  |   Career stats
No. 9: Matt Kenseth  |   Career stats
No. 8: Greg Biffle  |   Career stats
No. 7: Tony Stewart  |   Career stats
No. 6: Jeff Gordon  |   Career stats
No. 3 (tie): Denny Hamlin  |   Career stats
No. 3 (tie): Carl Edwards  |   Career stats
No. 2: Kyle Busch  |   Career stats

2010 finish: 1st

Our 2011 predictions:
• Jay Busbee: 1st
• Jay Hart: 1st
• Jenna Fryer: 3rd
• Dustin Long: 3rd
• Nate Ryan: 1st

2011 outlook: Love him or loathe him, there has to be respect for Jimmie Johnson, if for no other reason than this: while everyone was offering up their opinion on NASCAR’s new points system, Johnson’s response was to bring it on.

“I don’t care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship,” Johnson said. “I could care less because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances.”

This cuts right to the crux of why Johnson is the five-time defending champ. He doesn’t let outside forces distract him. Instead, he puts his entire focus on what he can control, thus maximizing his potential, which he’s proven is vast.

When Denny Hamlin went into last season’s finale with the points lead, Johnson’s focus wasn’t on where he had to finish in comparison to Hamlin; instead, he concentrated on what he had to do. Johnson wound up second – his best finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway in six years – while Hamlin and Co., talking all week about how they were the best team, muddled their way to a 14th-place finish. The rest is history.

At this point, there’s no sense in talking about pressure and how it might impact Johnson. He’s shown time and again that defending his throne doesn’t weigh on him, and now he’s proven that coming from behind doesn’t either.

What does bother Johnson? It’s impossible to tell, because as mentioned above, he doesn’t waste his time talking about such things.

What you need to know: For the first time since his championship run began, Johnson will not share a garage with Jeff Gordon. However, Steve Letarte, Gordon’s old crew chief and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s new one, will remain. That was done by design. Rather than swap teams in the offseason shakeup at Hendrick Motorsports, team owner Rick Hendrick moved drivers, which in theory will maintain the mechanical continuity that’s had Johnson on top for five years running.

Jay Hart is a Senior Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jay a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 11, 2011