Jimmie Johnson has left Texas, nothing but smoking, charred track behind him and his No. 48 Chevrolet.
If anybody ever looked on the way to another Sprint Cup championship, it is the veteran five-time champ, now seven points up on Matt Kenseth following Sunday’s blistering performance at the AAA Texas 500.
“He was so fast. It was unbelievable,” said the third-place finisher, Joey Logano.
But then, Johnson looked fast at at this time last year, too.
Twelve months ago, Johnson left Texas with a seven-point lead after taking out Brad Keselowski in a door-to-door shootout. The momentum seemed to be carrying Johnson toward a sixth Sprint Cup title.
But he lost a tire and hit the wall in Phoenix, and then a gear problem in the season finale in Homestead — two problems entirely uncharacteristic of Hendrick Motorsports — ended his championship hopes and handed the title to Keselowski.
That, coming a year after he (and everyone else) found it impossible to keep up with Tony Stewart’s five Chase wins in 2011, means it has been two seasons since Johnson has closed the deal on a championship.
So just because he is ahead now does not mean he will be ahead in two weeks in Miami at the season finale.
All it means is he’s got a good shot.
And five championships show that when Johnson has a good shot at the title, it’s hard to knock him off course.
“Man, it’s so weird because I’ve been in position before where I’ve had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row,” Johnson said. “There were other years where I had those feelings and it didn’t happen.”
It’s not often Johnson’s gut is wrong.
He has been in championship contention 10 years in a row, going back to his first full season in Sprint Cup. He was fifth in 2002, second the next two years, then fifth in ’05 before beginning his championship run.
“I think 2004, we had everything going our way, it seemed like. And it didn’t happen,” Johnson said. “Last year was another good example of us taking control late in the chase, and then that ended with two bad races.
“I guess the lesson in all of that is I’m not counting on anything.”
There’s no good reason to count on anything. Kenseth is formidable competition, with more victories this year than anyone. And at a point a spot, not to mention bonuses, seven points is not much to make up over two races.
But we’re talking about a five-time champion who looks like he is at the peak of his performance, equipment and experience. Seven points may mean game over.
“I think he was equally as good in the other championship runs,” said teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., second to Johnson on Sunday by more than four seconds. “They were all impressive for one reason or another.”
This potential championship already includes one impressive performance from Sunday.