RICHMOND, Va. -- Sure, Jimmie Johnson was frustrated by a disappointing 40th-place finish in NASCAR's regular-season finale Saturday night, but the new dad was still smiling after the race, still confident in his chances for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Johnson's wife Chandra gave birth to the couple's second daughter, Lydia, in the early hours of Friday morning. "Five Time," as Johnson is affectionately known, didn't show up at Richmond International Raceway for Saturday night's race until Saturday afternoon.
Because he didn't qualify his No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet Johnson had to start from the rear of the field. And that was merely the beginning of a long, challenging evening. He went down a lap early, blew a right front tire, and hit the wall -- all incidents resulting in his fourth consecutive finish of 28th or worse -- the longest such streak in his celebrated 12-year career.
While it isn't the way Johnson wanted to enter the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he didn't seem overly concerned.
"The 'Five?Time' thing is awfully cool, but 'Two?Time,' I'm much more proud of being two?time than anything,'' a smiling Johnson said referring to his daughters. "Just an awesome couple of nights."
"Unfortunately,'' he continued, "tonight here at the track things did not go well. We would literally wear the right front tire off the car as the night would go on. Start off kind of fast, run through the right front tire, had some issues there. But as I look at the string of bad races we've had here over the last three, four weeks, the majority of the tracks that resemble the Chase, we've been fast. We had a blown engine and tire failure at Pocono. Bristol, here, tracks we don't see in the Chase, we've had our issues.
"I'm glad Richmond and Bristol aren't in the Chase. I feel the 10 tracks that are in the Chase are very good for the 48 team. We'll start over on a clean sheet of paper next weekend and go at it.''
Johnson led the championship standing for all but two of the previous 25 weeks. He had accumulated a 75-point lead by the end of July in anticipation of possibly missing a race to be with his wife should she go into labor on a race day.
It turned out to be safety cushion -- not because of the birth of his daughter, but misfortune on the track.
With four wins, Johnson is re-seeded second in the standings to start the Chase run -- three-points behind five-time winner Matt Kenseth.
"Without a doubt you want to enter the Chase with momentum,'' Johnson said. "I think every team falls back on past history. We have won championships without momentum going into the first race.
"So we're going to fall on our experience and also the experience of knowing the Chase is so different than anything else. You're only racing 12 guys, not 43. So things change a lot. We're going to go to a track that is very good for us. We had a tire test there earlier in the year. It went really well.
"I'm going to reserve any major concern or overwhelming confidence until after Chicago. I'm going to go in there with confidence I can go out and win because I know that I can. We're going to enter nice and smooth and see how Chicago goes. Chicago is a whole new world."
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