Jimmie Johnson won five straight championships under the Chase format until Tony Stewart broke that streak in last year's NASCAR playoff. With just one race remaining before this year's Chase, Johnson has a familiar confidence and swagger leading into the season's final 10 races.
That's bad news for anyone hoping Stewart's championship signaled the end of Johnson's Chase dominance. Johnson has won three races this year and enters Richmond fourth in the standings. In short, Johnson appears poised to regain his championship form.
"I feel really good," Johnson said. "I think our performance on track shows that. We haven't had the results the last couple of weeks where we were running on the racetrack. I feel really good about our cars and also the 10 tracks in the Chase.
"They are the best 10 tracks that I have. ... Starting at Chicago, I'm always fast there. Loudon, Dover, Martinsville, Charlotte – there's a great lineup of race tracks for the No. 48 team. I feel really good about things."
While Johnson is confident about his chances over the final 10 races, he thinks momentum will be the key to winning the championship. That's something he feels he doesn't have with Denny Hamlin winning the last two races. Hamlin is also a perennial contender at Richmond and could easily win Saturday night's race, a fact not lost on the five-time champion.
"I am definitely aware of Chasers winning races and what Denny has done over the last couple of weeks," Johnson said. "I thought about it on my way up here; this is a great track for him (and) he has a very good chance of winning here tomorrow night."
Johnson is already locked in to the Chase, having clinched a berth two weeks ago at Bristol. This gives him an excellent opportunity to just focus on winning the race and not worry about points. The standings will reset after Saturday night with seeding based upon wins. A victory on Saturday night would tie him with Denny Hamlin for the most wins and seed the two atop the standings once the points reset after Saturday night's race.
"Highest seeding and max points would be key," Johnson said. "I want to take in every point that I can (into) the Chase, missed out on a few opportunities here of late. I would love to get a few more to take in with me and then the momentum it would give the team is very useful too. It's a great shot in the arm for everyone."
That shot in the arm just might be enough to propel Johnson to a sixth Sprint Cup Series championship.