Will Jimmie Johnson Start Putting Away Sprint Cup Title No. 6 at Martinsville?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 20:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, looks on prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 20, 2013 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson is a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.

Johnson comes into Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in a very familiar position: sitting first in the standings.

On top of that, Johnson returns to his most successful racetrack on the Cup circuit: In 23 starts, Johnson has an incredible eight wins, 16 top fives and 20 top 10s.

It doesn't get much closer to a sure thing than Johnson's performance record at Martinsville.

And now, with four races left in this year's edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and Johnson leading the series by four points, could we be on the verge of watching him start to pull away to a sixth Cup championship in Sunday's race?

In contrast to Johnson's superiority at Martinsville—he has an unheard of average finish of 5.3 there—his closest challenger, second-ranked Matt Kenseth, has struggled almost unmercifully at the short half-mile bullring.

In 27 career starts there, Kenseth has never visited victory lane, has just three top-five and eight overall top-10 finishes.

Johnson comes into Sunday's race having won the last two Cup events at Martinsville. He's going for a third straight win there for the second time in his career, having previously done so from the fall 2006 race to the fall 2007 race.

Speaking of which, in the five straight Cup championships Johnson won from 2006 through 2010, his success at Martinsville was almost a weather vane of sorts, indicating that a championship was on its way.

Consider: Johnson won at Martinsville in fall 2006, fall 2007, fall 2008, was second in fall 2009 and fifth in fall 2010. He went on to win the title in each of those seasons.

Will history repeat itself this Sunday? Will Johnson come into Martinsville with a four-point lead and leave there with, say, a 25-point edge?

If that happens, and unless something catastrophic occurs in the last three races, Johnson would appear to indeed be well on his way to championship No. 6. If he achieves that goal, it will leave him just one Cup crown shy of the seven career titles won by the two greatest drivers in NASCAR history, Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

Johnson could open his own store with the eight grandfather clocks he's earned for winning at Martinsville. This was the most recent clock added to his collection after winning at Martinsville earlier this year.
Johnson could open his own store with the eight grandfather clocks he's earned for winning at Martinsville. This was the most recent clock added to his collection after winning at Martinsville earlier this year./Getty Images

Short of slipping a mickey in his Sunday morning coffee or throwing nails at his tires during the race, Johnson's closest challengers in the Chase won't be able to single-handedly stop the Johnson juggernaut at Martinsville.

But there's one thing that guys like Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon have hopefully learned during Johnson's incredible run at Martinsville over the years.

That is, they can't race Johnson there. If they try that, they'll be playing right into his hands.

Rather, Kenseth and the other three closest Chase challengers have to somehow block out Johnson from their minds, almost pretend as if he called in sick that day and didn't show up.

They know he's going to run his kind of race, and if there's one thing you just cannot do at Martinsville, it's to try to go head to head and one-on-one against Johnson.

You'll wind up losing every time.

Rather, Kenseth, Busch, Gordon and Harvick have to do what Johnson has made nothing short of an art form of at Martinsville, namely, run their own race, don't worry about where the No. 48 is at and simply block him out of their minds.

That will be easier said than done, of course, but it may be their only way to keep Johnson from doing what he does best there.

And he sure does that quite well.

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