Published August 02, 2012
Everyone else is racing for second place as Jimmie Johnson shows he's stronger than ever.
As Jimmie Johnson sped over the famous Indianapolis bricks on Sunday, claiming what was his fourth Brickyard 400 victory, there were some words that came to mind.
Doom. Foreboding. Déjà vu.
The muscle flexed by Johnson in winning for the fourth time at Indianapolis wasn't just about he and his team hitting on a setup on track where it's difficult to pass, thus allowing them to run away from the field. This was more than that.
This was a shot across the bow.
After failing to win the title last year after an unprecedented five straight, it is clear Johnson and the No. 48 team are intent on reclaiming something they feel is rightfully theirs: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Nobody who has paid attention these last few months can deny the 48 team is operating on an entirely different level than the rest of the garage.
Yes, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski have had as many victories as Johnson (three apiece) this season. And yes, other drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle seem capable of matching the consistency the 48 has shown in finishing 12th or better in 17 of 20 races this season.
But there is yet to be a team which has demonstrated the ability to combine those two elements: Winning multiple times and showing week-to-week consistency. And that's the combination which just so happens to be the most important factor in determining who will be hailed as the 2012 Cup champion on the banquet stage in Las Vegas.
And here's more bad news for the rest of the field: Johnson said following the Brickyard race his team is "as strong as we've ever been" from a performance standpoint.
But if the 48 team is so good, why is Johnson only fourth in points and why hasn't he been higher than third all season? It's simple: Johnson has struggled this year in restrictor-plate races, where in three starts he has finished 42nd, 35th and 36th and has yet to go the full distance.
In the other 17 non-plate races, Johnson's average finish is a staggering 5.23.
Oh, and Johnson also leads all drivers in laps led and top-five finishes.
If drivers are being honest with themselves, all of them must consider the 48 team as the one to beat. Even Johnson's car owner is in awe of the dominance exhibited by the driver and crew chief Chad Knaus.
"You've got to look at the talent Jimmie has and the talent Chad has and the pit crew and everything else – the feedback, the communications," Rick Hendrick said. "I've never seen a guy that could drive a car as out of control and make it look in control as Jimmie can.
"These two are phenomenal together, and I'm just glad I don't have to race against them."
Unfortunately for 42 other drivers, they do have to compete with Johnson and Knaus. Although it may seem premature to say the championship is all but decided with 16 races still to go, the statistics indicate it's not.
All you have to do is look at recent history to confirm this belief. After each of his three previous Indy victories in 2006, 2008 and 2009, Johnson went on to win the championship. And there is nothing that we've seen thus far to suggest this won't again be the case this season.
But if it takes more than stats and an already established precedent to sway you, that's fine. Go ahead and believe someone else has a shot.
Just know you've been warned. In 2012, it's Jimmie Johnson's world again; everyone else is racing for second place.