Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nascar: Sprint Cup Johnson Ready for Title No. 6

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nascar: Sprint Cup Johnson Ready for Title No. 6

Article excerpt

ORLANDO, Fla. --

Jimmie Johnson remains the most underappreciated five-time champion in professional sports.

You know the NASACAR narrative by now: Personality is too vanilla. Has a crew chief who cheats. He avoids dustups on the track, demeaning the ghosts of great champions like Dale Earnhardt.

But here's the deal: Johnson is once again leading the Sprint Cup championship chase, now 44 points ahead of Carl Edwards.

Johnson has two victories and six top 5s and just one finish worse than 12th. He just rolls on and on, building momentum after his season-opening victory in Daytona.

But it's not just about him. Compare and contrast Johnson's success with the results of the last two Sprint Cup champions. Tony Stewart failed to defend his title in 2012 and is now in 21st place in the standings. His 15th-place finish at Darlington is actually considered a nice bump in momentum, reflecting Stewart's struggles this season.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, certainly isn't out of the hunt, currently in seventh place despite a 25-point penalty in Texas. But he has no victories in 11 starts. An even more ominous tidbit is that he has three consecutive finishes of 15th or worse after finishing 32nd at Darlington.

Trend or aberration? We shall see.

The issues for Stewart and Keselowski point to the fact that it's increasingly difficult to defend a title once you've won one. The fact that Johnson won five in a row starting in 2006 and has remained highly competitive the seasons he failed to close is mind- boggling.

So what's the difference between winning a championship and defending one?

"A lot of it depends on how the season starts," Johnson said at the beginning of the year. "If you take off where you left off, it's pretty easy and you get accustomed to what being the champion is -- the perks that come with it, the notoriety -- and then everything kind of blends in. …

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