CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Every week he's a threat to win, and every year he's a championship contender. By all rights, Jimmie Johnson should be the most confident driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage.
And yet every week, he says, he arrives with a list of potential concerns regarding how competitive he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team will be once he rolls out onto the track.
Five consecutive championships (2006-10) and 66 career victories have done little to temper his apprehension or his method for dealing with it.
Not even a dominating performance at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, his sixth win of the season and one that earned him a seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth with two races remaining in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, silenced the noise.
The concern, he said, is always there.
"Absolutely," Johnson, 38, said Tuesday during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "I know you're only as good as your last race, so that should help, but every weekend there are just different challenges. And even if we were going to another mile and a half (track), I would find something to be concerned about."
Johnson doesn't dwell on the negative. But he also doesn't ignore it, he said.
"I'm probably a sport's psychologist's worst nightmare, because I look at the negatives and try to learn from them and prepare myself based on them," he said. "I'm generally an optimistic guy but for whatever reason I focus on mistakes I've made or ? issues we've had, potential issues that exist, just to have my head around that stuff and be ready going into a race."
This weekend's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway has given Johnson more than enough fodder on which to focus. A year ago, he was in the same position, coming off a Texas win with a seven-point lead over Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski.
But a right-front tire issue at Phoenix midway through the race short-circuited the team's efforts, and by the end of the day, he had fallen 20 points behind Keselowski. It was a deficit he failed to overcome.
"So making sure we don't do that is going to be top priority," Johnson said of the tire problem. "We had a competitive car; (I) could have used some more comfort and overall grip in the car. So just focusing on that and making sure the car drives real good."
The battle between Johnson and Kenseth is the second closest in the modern era with two races remaining. In 2011, Carl Edwards held a three-point lead on Tony Stewart with two to go. This year's tight contest matches last year's from a points standpoint.
PIR is one of Johnson's strongest tracks ? he's a four-time winner there and sports an average finishing position of 6.4 in 20 career starts.
Kenseth has two more career starts, but only one win at PIR, and an average finishing position of 17.2.
Although he won't be on the track until Friday, Johnson said he's already "run a lot of laps" around the 1-mile track "in my mind."
The visualization is a carryover from his days on his high school swim team when his coach had athletes memorize swim strokes and turns.
"And it helped me kind of embrace it," he said.
Once he made the switch from off-road to NASCAR, he found that running laps on the track in his mind ? searching for that perfect line ? helped prepare him for what was to come.
"I think it's just the way I'm wired, the way I prepare and feel good about preparing for each race," he said.
"I continue to run laps in my mind whether it's while I'm training or before I go to sleep, and just try to show up as well prepared as possible."
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