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CHARLOTTE, N.C. ? Jimmie Johnson doesn't take it personally. Potential changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, likely to be announced later this week, aren't aimed at taking down the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, he said.
"I don't think that I'm the reason that things have declined in our sport and our viewership is down," the six-time Sprint Cup champion said Tuesday during the annual Sprint Media Tour. "I don't think NASCAR is picking on me and trying to keep me from winning the championship. I really don't."
Johnson, the only driver to win five consecutive titles, rebounded from two "off" years (finishing sixth and third in 2011 and '12) to win title No. 6 in 2013.
While Johnson has piled up trophies, NASCAR has wrestled with ways to improve its on-track product.
Talk of changes to the 10-race Chase have been a hot topic, and the subject is expected to be addressed on Thursday when NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France speaks to the media. Earlier this month, France said officials were "working on the format of the future."
"Whatever that might be," he said during an appearance on MRN's "NASCAR Live" radio show.
"Maybe it's a little different, maybe it's more than a little bit, but we're looking at different things," France said.
Johnson, 38, said conversations with France and various NASCAR executives convinced him that any changes being considered were for the benefit of everyone and not an attempt to rein in his team.
"The King is the King for a reason; Dale and what he accomplished ... NASCAR likes history being made," Johnson said of the sport's only seven-time champions, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
"They like those big monumental moments. I by no means think this is an attack on the 48.
"And statistically, if you went through each driver, the final 10 races and who wins the most races, and seeded the field based on that, we'd be No. 1. So I by no means see it as an attempt to keep the 48 from winning. I think they do care who wins the championship, but they're not laying there awake at night wondering 'how can we keep the 48 from winning it.' "
Drivers for team owner Rick Hendrick have won 11 Cup titles -- in addition to Johnson's six, Jeff Gordon has won four championships while one of former Hendrick driver Terry Labonte's two titles came with the organization.
Talk of change, Hendrick said, doesn't make him nervous.
"I get excited," he said. "I'd love to see (Johnson) get seven, I'd love to see Jeff get five, I'd love to see (Dale) Earnhardt (Jr.) get one and I'd like to see Kasey (Kahne) get one.
"I kind of realize when I look back at some of the records that we've been able to set, we've been doing this a long time; the challenge for me is to keep it going and stay competitive and try to do it every year. Hopefully, I'll be around a long time to keep on doing it.
"It's a thrill to see Jimmie get six, but it's going to be tougher."
Things change, Hendrick said. Situations change. There was a time when the defending series champion was allowed first pick of pit stalls for the entirety of the following year.
"Then Jeff wins it one year and they change the rule," Hendrick said.
Johnson's arrival as a full-time Cup driver came in 2002, two years before the debut of the Chase format. It's worth noting that he finished fifth in '02 and second in '03.
"When the Chase came along, it was a significant change that I think helped the sport in a lot of ways," Johnson said. "And then we've seen some minor changes since that haven't really moved the needle. My opinion ... something big needed to happen. ...
"If it's the right bullet, only time will tell. But I commend NASCAR for looking at something big, something different."
For now, no one knows what "different" is, exactly. But whatever the changes might be, Johnson won't take offense.
"I see where the mindset is; I kind of understand what's going on," he said. "We just need to see if that's how it's going to play out -- the things floated out, what it might look like. We'll know soon."
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