Johnson knows how it feels to chase a champion

Published Nov. 23, 2010 8:21 p.m. EST

Jimmie Johnson can still recall in vivid detail his near-misses in 2004 and '05, his voice rising as he describes how he fell just short of a Sprint Cup championship.

No matter that he's won five straight titles since.

''I've forgotten a lot of the good things, but you remember all the bad things - in detail,'' Johnson told The Associated Press on Tuesday, two days after becoming the first driver in the seven-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to overcome a points deficit in the season's final race.

Hardly satisfied by his record four consecutive titles, Johnson persevered through an uneven season to win yet again. It made the victory all that much sweeter, but also sent him into NASCAR's short offseason with more uncertainty than might be expected of a champion.


After crew chief Chad Knaus benched his pit-stop team in the middle of the race at Texas on Nov. 7, Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon swapped crews for the last two races.

''We clearly had some issues on pit road that we need to rectify there, which in the past we've had more stability on the over-the-wall guys,'' Johnson said. ''I think we're lacking a little speed in the cars.''

Johnson was in New York to record an interview with driver-turned-broadcaster Kyle Petty to air on Speed TV. It may seem hard to believe now that five years ago, Johnson was the guy always left lamenting how he came oh so close to a title.

His rivals can take that as a reminder of how quickly things can change. Or discouragement that even when Johnson was pushed to the end by Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, his champion's experience made the difference.

''That's why I tried to jab Denny a little bit during the press conference,'' Johnson said. ''I know what it's like to worry about a four-time champion - I had Jeff on my heels all Chase long. I've dealt with (Tony) Stewart. I've had to deal with Matt Kenseth. It's really intimidating. I've been there before.''


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