Two races into the Chase, the five-time defending champion sits 10th in the standings, 29 points back of Tony Stewart. Position-wise, he's never been lower. Points-wise, he has. Under the old points system used every year prior to this season, 29 points equates to about 107 points. In 2006, Johnson was 165 points back after the third race of that year's Chase.
"I don't think we're in a position where it's win or nothing but we need a good top-three run here," Johnson said Friday. "There's still eight races left."
Which is one more race than he had to make up ground with in 2006.
That year, Johnson started the Chase off 39th, 13th, 14th. He finished 24th the next week at Talladega (and actually made up nine points), then went 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 9th to win the title by 56 points.
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Johnson said he can pull on the experience of that season, adding that he actually has less pressure on him now than back in 2006. Then, Johnson was a zero-time champion, best known for his failure to win a title that had eluded him in 2003 (when he finished second), 2004 (second again) and 2005 (fifth).
After the 2005 season, the question changed from when Johnson would win one to if he'd ever get over the hump.
"I've looked back at the first championship and how important that was and how much pressure there was on me to win that," he said Friday. "I look back at that as the toughest year and digging the deepest."
In actuality, Johnson hasn't performed poorly in the first two races of this year's Chase. He had a top-three run going at Chicagoland until he ran out of fuel and likely would have finished in the top 10 at New Hampshire if he hadn't made contact with Kyle Busch.
As for the verbal spat he got into over the radio at New Hampshire with crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson said that sort of thing is to be expected after 10 years of working together.
"When you work with someone as long as we have, for over 10 years now, there are hot spots and buttons that can be pushed that send someone over the edge," Johnson explained. "We know what took place last weekend and he knows at times I can be frustrated with his cheerleading. That is what I said on the radio. So, it’s nothing new to us.
"I know a lot of people are reacting to it and think that it is something abnormal. … We talk about this stuff all the time. So, yes it wasn't our finest moment on Sunday, but, it is what we deal with. It's been part of what we’ve been dealing with for 10 years."
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