- Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00
- Published on Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00
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Jimmie Johnson took the lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup just in time for the series to roll into Auto Club Speedway where the El Cajon, California native has been so successful. That should have only added to the motivation for Johnson’s rivals. Johnson rolled into the California track last Sunday with the lead in the points for the first time in this year’s Chase. But not by much. Heading into last weekend’s race, he held a slim eight-point lead over Denny Hamlin.
Johnson, who celebrated his 35th birthday last month won February’s Auto Club 500 to give the four-time champion back to back victories and wins in four of his past six starts at the two mile track. He is the three-time defending champion of the track’s fall race. Incidentally they shortened the race from 500 to 400 miles this year. The track will host just one race next season, on March 27.
“It’s a great position to be in, but it’s way too early to think about, to worry about defending,” Johnson said following his runner-up finish at Kansas Speedway. “You have Chase guys running so good each and every week. It is way too early to think about those things. Way too early.”
Auto Club Speedway has not been a particularly good track for Denny Hamlin. He finished 29th in February. Last fall he won the Coors Light Pole, but a crash relegated him to a 37th place finish.
It’s interesting that West Coast drivers have had such great success at the California track. Five drivers, natives of California, Nevada, and Washington have won 11 of the 20 Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway. All of them, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Kurt and Kyle Busch are battling in this year’s Chase. Add in Bakersfield, California’s Kevin Harvick and it gives the race a distinct West Coast flavor. Johnson edged Harvick for the win in February’s race, a favor Harvick dearly wanted to repay last Sunday. “It’s been a good race track for us over the last couple years and we’re looking forward to going back,” Harvick said after the race at Kansas. “We need to capitalize on making something happen over the next couple of weeks.”
Jimmie Johnson has taken the lead and continues to set the standard as the competitor to beat. But after four of the 10 races in the books, the overall standings have never been closer at this point in the Chase. Johnson now has a lead of 39 points over previous leader Denny Hamlin. The standard remains 2005, when Tony Stewart led his current Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman by just four points.
There are a record number of drivers within striking distance of the Points lead. Five, however, statistically have pulled away from the pack. Three: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon have gained points on the lead since the reset following the season’s 28th race at Richmond last month. No surprise, Johnson, the current leader, made up a 10-point deficit and held an 8-point lead going into last Sunday’s race. Stewart’s win Sunday has moved up from sixth to fifth place. Stewart is now 107 points out of the points lead. Gordon has moved from eighth place to fourth.
The tour returns home to Charlotte this weekend for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500. The traditional mid-point race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Charlotte Motor Speedway has seen seven consecutive different wins since the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. Four of them, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson are current Chase qualifiers. Johnson, with six wins at Charlotte, is tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most win at the circuit’s home town track.
Jeff Gordon has five wins at Charlotte and could join the club with Johnson, Waltrip, and Allison with a win Saturday night. Chase driver, Jeff Burton has three wins at Charlotte. Chase participant Kurt Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 this spring and the most recent Sprint All-Star Race. Hard to pick a favorite, but with just six races to go, the pressure is growing and everybody is having nightmares about keeping Jimmie Johnson in their rear view mirror.