Normally on the Saturday morning of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the top story would be about whether or not Jimmie Johnson would add to his phenomenal track record of success at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he has 10 race victories, including a record four in the all-star event.
Today, though, the discussion about Johnson isn’t whether he’ll win again on Saturday night, but about the struggles of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Johnson, you see, hasn’t won in 13 races, dating back to Texas Motor Speedway last November.
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"That’s like a 72-race slump, almost, for him," said Johnson’s teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Friday at CMS, Johnson didn’t look good in all-star practice, either, where he was just 14th-fastest of 19 drivers setting times, although he was second among the eight drivers who ran at least 10 consecutive laps.
Not surprisingly, Johnson’s adversaries aren’t exactly feeling his pain.
"I don’t feel bad for him," Carl Edwards said of Johnson. "I’ve felt bad for him before and he turns it right around."
"I’m more worried about us winning right now than him," added Matt Kenseth, the driver who finished second to Johnson in points last year. "I don’t think anybody has much to worry about him not being the guy to beat when it gets down to it at the end of the year again like they usually are every year."
So who are the five drivers most likely to break Johnson’s streak of two consecutive NASCAR Sprint All-Star victories? My picks for tonight:
KEVIN HARVICK – Fast all year, Harvick has two victories so far this season and arguably should have had a third last weekend at Kansas Speedway. Although he used to say CMS was his worst track, Harvick won the all-star race here in 2007 and has won the Coca-Cola 600 twice. He is the odds-on favorite.
JEFF GORDON – It looks as the driver nicknamed "Big Daddy" has magically found the fountain of youth this season. Gordon, a three-time all-star winner, is red hot right now. He won last week at Kansas, finished second at Texas and Richmond and has only one finish worse than 13th all year long. No wonder he leads the points.
JOEY LOGANO — Last year, Logano knocked on the door to success. This year, he’s kicking it down. He and Harvick are the only two-time winners so far in 2014, and he’s ahead of his teammate Brad Keselowski in victories and points. His six top-five finishes tie Dale Earnhardt Jr. for most in the series.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. – The year began with Junior in Victory Lane in the Daytona 500, and he’s continued to run well, finishing second at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Darlington. Earnhardt won this race as a rookie in 2000, and was fastest in Friday’s only practice round.
BRIAN VICKERS – OK, this is a dark-horse pick. Stipulated. But Vickers looked fast on Friday in practice, and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Clint Bowyer won the Sprint Showdown, where he clearly had the dominant car. This team has been quiet all season and may be ready to finally break out.
And what about Johnson?
Johnson’s teammate Earnhardt said the six-time champion will break out of his slump. Maybe it’ll be Saturday night, maybe down the road, but it will happen said Earnhardt.
"They’ll figure it out," said Earnhardt. "It will happen at some damn racetrack like this. He’ll go out and just wax everybody and then everything is fine for the rest of the year. They’ll just hit on it and keep going."
WATCH! The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: 7 p.m. ET Saturday, FOX Sports 1