Jimmie Johnson never left. No, one year without a title after five straight years of championships isn't exit stage left -- it's just a role as a one-act supporting actor after five award-winning turns in a one-man show.
On Sunday at Indianapolis, Johnson and the No. 48 team might have given the Sprint Cup Series a peek at his newest starring project. Johnson, who started sixth, obliterated the field on Sunday, leading a race-high 99 of 160 laps, beating Kyle Busch by more than four seconds.
Heck, Johnson's win was so much of a butt-kicking that Busch suggested he obtained an exclusive visa to parts unknown.
"If it wasn't for the 48, we were probably in our zip code on the rest of the field," Busch said. "But Jimmie Johnson was in his own country today, so we just couldn't keep up with him."
Johnson took the lead on lap 28, beating Denny Hamlin out of the pits under green and on the race's final restart with 20 laps to go immediately bolted away from the field rendering the question of the final segment not "Who will win?" but rather "Will a caution erase this lead?"
It was Johnson's fourth Brickyard 400 win and the type of controlling win that's become commonplace for the 48 team, especially during Johnson's 2006-2010 championship run.
During that stretch, Johnson won 35 races -- an average of seven a season. In 14 of those wins, he led over a third of the race's lap. Sunday's win was Johnson's third in 20 races. At Darlington, he led 134 of 368 laps. At Dover, he led 289 of 400. See where this is going? Plus, Johnson's three previous Indianapolis wins all came during championship seasons.
His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be leading the points standings right now, but Johnson is the man to beat. Yeah, he's been terrible at restrictor plate tracks, but those poor performances (two crashes and an engine failure) have been the source of bad luck in the drafting lottery. In the 17 non-restrictor plate races this season, Johnson's lowest finish is an astonishing 12th.
Watch out, field.
"I feel that from a performance standpoint that we're as strong as we've ever been," Johnson said. "We've had issues late in a race that's cost us track position for a variety of reasons and that's the part that we need to make sure is buttoned up before the Chase starts -- carry that through the Chase. But from a performance standpoint these are amazing race cars. We made a lot of progress in the offseason and getting started this year, and I feel really good about the Chase. I'm ready for it to start."
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