Johnson begins title defense against toughest Chase field yet
But this time it may be harder than ever before for Johnson, and not because of burnout or malaise or any of the other little mitigating factors that tear down dynasties. Johnson faces arguably the best Chase for the Championship field ever assembled when the 10-race playoffs begin on Sunday at Loudon, N.H. That's not to say he's outmanned. But he's surrounded.
But he was feeling more chipper on Tuesday.
"I feel good about [the momentum]," he said. "We've been able to perform at tracks that weren't necessarily our best. We've been running as we had hoped at tracks that were good for us. I really think some of the best tracks over the course of the year are at the start and the end of the season, so with the Chase just showing up, I know we've got really good tracks ahead of us. And that helps to get on the roll that we've been able to do the last few years and we'll just see what happens."
Stewart, the points leader for much of the season, has been slumping recently, but figures to be a threat throughout. And what of Gordon, somehow having a sneaky run-up to the Chase? He has finished outside the top 10 just three times in the last 13 races, with six top-fives and four runnerup finishes during that span.
At 33-plus-plus-plus, with his team mostly intact from his previous runs and