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MAGIC CITY RACING XTRA: Jimmie Johnson Looking for No. 5

Jimmiejohnson48 DAYTONA BEACH – Jimmie Johnson's bid to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship this season got off to a terrific start.

Johnson started off the year with wins in three of his first five races, leaving competing drivers to just shake their heads.

“I'd rather lose to any of the 41 cars out there than this No. 48 car," Kurt Busch said after finishing third in Johnson's first win at Bristol in March. "I thought we had them beat.''

Then, Johnson began a decent.

In a five-race span from April 25-May 30, Johnson had just one top 10 finish – with three of his races ending in the 30s.

Was Johnson's bid for another championship in trouble?

"We've been in a worse situation in the past and come back,'' he said after finishing 37th at Charlotte on Labor Day weekend. That dropped him to seventh in the standings.

“We'll keep working on it and get it figured out."

It looks like he and his team have done just that as that five race span appear to be just a blip.

Johnson rode into the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on a two-race winning streak, earning his first road course win in California when Marcos Ambrose stalled his car by trying to conserve fuel while holding the lead with six laps left. Johnson also took the checkered in New Hampshire last weekend.

In the two races previous to his wins, Johnson finished within the top six at Pocono and Michigan.

With rain wiping out qualifying for Saturday's race, Johnson was able to take a starting spot on the front row as season points determined the starting grid.

Johnson came into Daytona trailing Kevin Harvick by 105 points in the standings. With nine races left – not counting Saturday's late race -- to determine the chase to the championship's field of 12, Johnson appears solidly entrenched to make his run at his fifth straight championship.

“We've had some good races and some bad races,'' Johnson said. “A month ago everyone was saying the 48 was in a slump and now we're on top of the world. We've just gone to work every day. Some weekends are better than other. That's life. We're happy where we're at. We're happy to have five wins and there's a lot of racing to get ready for the chase.''

Johnson has been NASCAR's dominating force the past decade, not only winning the series championship four straight years, but being in contention in the four years prior to his championship runs as well.

In 2002, in his first full season on the circuit, Johnson finished fifth in the Winston Cup standings. The following year, he finished second to Matt Kenseth, then was runner up to Kurt Busch in 2004. In 2005, Johnson won four races and finished fifth as Tony Stewart won the championship. But since then, it's been all about Jimmie Johnson.

In the past nine seasons, Johnson has made his No. 48 Chevrolet a standard in Victory Lane as he has won 49 races in 305 starts. He also has 125 top five finishes during that span with 187 in the top 10.

It's no wonder he's a favorite to leave Homestead-Miami Speedway with the Tiffany designed Sprint Cup that is awarded to the series champ.

Again.

“They have shown some vulnerability this year by being off the pace a little bit at times and not having things go their way like it has in the past,'' said Hendrick teammate – and on-track rival -- Jeff Gordon.

“They've shown the past couple of weeks that they don't allow that to get to them and that is what makes them so strong. They know how to rise to the occasion at the right time and I think they know how good they are. They can get on track pretty quick.''


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