Jimmie Johnson gets another shot at Sprint Cup title No. 7

Jimmie Johnson gets another shot at Sprint Cup title No. 7
Jimmie Johnson, right, chats with fellow NASCAR driver Trevor Bayne before a Sprint Cup qualifying session. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

As the hours tick down toward the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway, time also ticks on Jimmie Johnson's rendezvous with history.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion is one season title shy of tying all-time leaders Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.


Call him interested but not overly obsessed.

"I guess if I grew up saying that I wanted to tie Dale and Richard, I'd have a (concern), but I never thought I'd win one," Johnson said with a chuckle. "So it's like I've been playing with house money all of these years.

"I never thought I'd be in this position. Certainly we'd love to tie those greats, but I don't put a ton into it. It's just fighting the battle of the day, fighting the battle of the weekend."

He will begin his quest for No. 7 in Sunday's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400. Johnson is seeded eighth among the 16 drivers who qualified for the Chase, with two victories.

Qualifying playoff opener was canceled because of rain Friday for the third consecutive year. The lineup for Sunday's 400-mile race will be based on the playoff seeding, putting Kyle Busch on the pole with Brad Keselowski joining him on the front row.

Denny Hamlin will start third, followed by Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. The 16 drivers who qualified for the 10-race playoff will all start at the front of the field.

Call Johnson a motivated dark horse.

"I'd rather be dominating and be on top and be the top pick," Johnson said. "I don't like where we're at. But we're working hard and there is a lot of optimism. We just need to deliver consistently and execute at the track.

"The way the Chase works, if we can run in the top five and stay alive and make it to Homestead (for the final race), we do have some time to sort things out and get back to where we need to be."

Johnson won his first five championships consecutively from 2006 through 2010, erasing Cale Yarborough's previous mark of three in a row (1976-78). He won his sixth in 2013.

Johnson celebrated his 41st birthday last Saturday. Only six drivers in NASCAR history 41 or older have captured Cup titles. Bobby Allison and Lee Petty, both 45, were the oldest.

In the last two Chases, Johnson was eliminated in the second round.

Time, the avenger? He will take the long view, thank you.

"Yes, it is shocking we haven't made it past the second round," Johnson said. "But last year we had a very real chance of being in the Final Four at Homestead, but a mechanical (problem) got us, which is frustrating.


"Everybody makes a big deal out of (my not having) won a championship in a while. But it has been 10 years since my first. There are only four years I missed, and we haven't finished the fourth one yet. I don't think that's too bad."

Twitter @tbaranek