Jimmie Johnson makes championship case with Dover win

Jared C. Tilton

Jimmie Johnson not only snapped Matt Kenseth’s two-race winning streak Sunday, but made his case why he could win his sixth championship.

Even as Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch swept the top two positions in consecutive weeks and seemingly turned NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup into the Joe Gibbs Racing Invitational, Jimmie Johnson remained unfazed.

The only man to win five consecutive Cup titles (2006-10) continually reiterated how pleased he was with how he began this year's Chase. And why shouldn't he be?

His playoffs commenced with a come-from-behind fifth at Chicagoland Speedway, followed by a workmanlike fourth-place effort the next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The consecutive top-fives placed Johnson third in points, just 18 back of leader Kenseth heading into this past weekend.

However, Johnson's more than solid start to the Chase was overshadowed by the dominance Kenseth exhibited, notching max-earning points victories at both Chicagoland and New Hampshire. This was compounded by Busch finishing a close second in each race, giving the appearance that JGR was destined to secure its fourth series championship.

Johnson, though, was undeterred.

A Chase veteran -- he's the only driver to qualify for all 10 editions -- Johnson carries with him an impervious attitude. It's the mindset of a driver who has seen others go back-to-back (Greg Biffle, 2008) to open the Chase before but not be able to maintain that success throughout. His unwavering belief is that the No. 48 team is unquestionably the best in the garage no matter if the box score or point standings indicate otherwise.

Aiding Johnson's confidence is how the schedule fell.

Dover International Speedway -- one of his better tracks where he had won seven times --  represented his chance to make a statement and stake his claim why he should be considered a favorite to win the championship.

On Friday when meeting with reporters, he was jovial, openly discussing how excited he was for the weekend at hand. And at no point did he back away from talk that he was the man to beat Sunday.

And as expected, Johnson lived up to the advanced billing. He led 243 of 400 laps and despite having older tires was able to fend off teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to secure his fifth win of the year. In doing so, he cut into Kenseth's points lead, which now sits at eight with seven Chase races still to go.

"You've got to win when you're at your best track," Johnson said. "That being said, we had to win here today. I think any points on the 18 (Busch) or the 20 (Kenseth) would have been a very good day. Max points, it's an awesome day."

The victory broke a record Johnson shared with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most all-time wins at Dover, and led to his crew chief calling him the "most underrated champion" in the sport. Whether a driver who's won 65 races and five Cup championships in his career can be "underrated" is debatable.

But what's not up for debate is that Johnson is more than a supporting player in this year's Chase -- he's a central figure.

"It's really cool," Johnson said of his record-breaking triumph. "I'm not sure I've ever done what Richard Petty hasn't. To get this eighth win here is very, very special. Truthfully, it was the first thought that went through my mind when I crossed the finish line."

Then, it was quickly back to what mattered the most.

"It wasn't long after I thought of the impact of winning in the Chase, wondering where the 20 was."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Jimmie Johnson wins at Dover | Full Dover coverage

Earnhardt, Jr. not satisfied with runner-up finish

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