Conspiracy? No, Johnson's just clutch

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports
Jimmie Johnson celebrated a victory for the first time with his daughter

Conspiracy? No, Johnson's just clutch

Jimmie Johnson celebrated a victory for the first time with his daughter

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There's a reason Jimmie Johnson has won four straight championships. He's as clutch as they come, no matter how high the pressure.

Conspiracy theorists out there want to think it's something else – that NASCAR secretly wants Johnson, not cash cow Dale Earnhardt Jr., to win. But really that's an insult to Johnson, his team and what they've accomplished.

It takes a special something to win four straight Cup titles, regardless of the championship format. We know this because only one man has done it – Johnson.

How he has won those four titles is rooted in not letting the tension of the moment get to him, not getting down when things don't go his way and not getting anxious when he finds himself in a hole, all of which could have happened after Johnson finished 25th last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the opening race of the 2010 Chase.

But facing a 92-point deficit isn't so daunting when you know you can overcome nearly anything, just as long as you do your job. Going into Sunday's race at Dover, Johnson knew he had won more races there (five) than any other active driver and that he stood a pretty good chance at making up ground on points leader Denny Hamlin, who has struggled at the track.

So Johnson went about his business, winning the pole Friday, working the car into better shape Saturday and leading the most laps Sunday. When he took the checkered flag to win the AAA 400, it marked his 19th win in 62 Chase races, a stat so mind-boggling it's worth repeating: Jimmie Johnson has won 30 percent of the Chase races.

Yes, the tracks do suit Johnson's driving style, something conspiracy theorists love to point out. But tell me something; name a track that doesn't suit Johnson well. Of the 22 tracks on the Cup schedule, the only ones where he hasn't been to victory lane are Chicagoland, Watkins Glen and Homestead-Miami, where the Chase concludes.

No, there are no conspiracy theories here. No scripts to be followed. It actually is a lot simpler than that. Johnson is just good.

"They're not good; they're great," said Jeff Burton, who finished second on Sunday. "That word is not being overused when I say that. They've won four in a row. You're not good doing that. You have to be great to do that."

Now Johnson's drive for five is back on, not that it really ever was off. The win moved him from seventh in the standings to second, just 35 points in back of Hamlin, who is more than living up to the billing as Johnson's chief antagonist.

Hamlin pinpointed Dover as his nemesis track, the one he just needed to get through. He did that and more, coming home ninth – his best Chase finish at Dover.

"We knew we were going to lose some to that 48 [Johnson], unless they made a mistake or something like that," Hamlin said. "So I'm really not alarmed by it, not really bothered by it. I think I got to just worry about me.

"We wanted to get out of here with a decent finish and just be within shouting range," he continued. "The original goal was to be 80 points back after Kansas [site of next weekend's race]. Well, that goal has been shifted now to let's be at least even when we leave Kansas. Then we feel like we can beat those guys in the long run."

Next weekend's race at Kansas Speedway should prove to be the most critical in the 10-race Chase. It won't determine the outcome, but it will sort out the contenders from the pretenders. Be good at Kansas and you'll likely be good the following two Chase races in Southern California and Charlotte, as well as Texas and Homestead in November. Struggle and you likely don't stand a chance.

For Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch, who sits third in the standings, Kansas will be a measuring stick. Can they stay with Johnson, who hasn't finished worse than 14th there since 2005? More importantly, can they beat him?

For Johnson, it will be more of the same. He doesn't need to worry about anyone else because, with four trophies in his living room, he knows that if does what he's capable of doing, he'll be just fine.

"For me, what people want to read into, what they want to think about today's performance, that's fine. We're moving on," Johnson said. "We have to go to Kansas and do the job again. There's eight races left in this thing. We want to win this championship. We want to win five in a row. It's within our race shop."

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