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CUP: Johnson’s Success Comes Quietly

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It’s been a busy week, news-wise for NASCAR fans.

Front Row Motorsports won its first Sprint Cup race after a lengthy rain delay at Talladega Superspeedway, as the Davids — Ragan and Gilliland — defeated all the Goliaths in the field.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing scored big victories in NASCAR appellate hearings, getting substantial reductions in penalties levied by NASCAR.

Kurt Busch was sensational in an IndyCar test, raising the possibility of doing the Indy 500-Coca-Cola 600 double next year.

Brian France’s divorce records were unsealed.

The New York Times reported Jeff Gordon is selling his Central Park condo for $30 million.

Lost in all the headlines and gossip was the fact that on the track, five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is having an amazing start to his season.

With 10 races in the books, Johnson has two race victories, five top fives and seven top 10s, tied for tops in the series in all three categories. His points lead is 41 over Carl Edwards and 59 over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Given that the most points a driver can make up in any race is 47, that means Johnson leads every driver except Edwards by at least one full race in points.

And with how tight the competition is these days, especially at the top, to essentially lap the field in 10 races is fairly remarkable.

Friday morning at Darlington Raceway, where he is the defending race winner, Johnson said he’s taking nothing for granted.

“Every year has its own feel to it,” said Johnson. “It’s still so early I can’t draw a conclusion to a year yet. It’s nice to get off to a quick start. I always try to check some boxes: Win a race is a huge one, win a pole, another one. Try to win multiple races now with the seeding process and also the wild card for the Chase. We have worked through some of those check marks pretty quick.”

Indeed he has.

With the luxury of two victories and a huge points lead, Johnson and his team are well positioned for a run at a sixth title.

“As the year wears on the focus still is on making the Chase, which we are probably in good position for with our two wins,” said Johnson. “Don’t want to guarantee anything there and then being ready for the Chase. So we are really just going down the road right now.

Obviously, though, there are no guarantees, and dominating the regular season doesn’t typically mean much at Chase time, one reason Johnson is hedging his bets.

“I can’t draw any big conclusions, but I’m very proud of where we are at,” he said. “Again, I think it reflects the hard work that was put in during the offseason. We need to stay aggressive and keep working hard and see once we get close to September what we have for everybody.”

Last year, Johnson’s victory here was a hugely emotional one, as it was the 200th for car owner Rick Hendrick, who had several near misses in the season before finally breaking through.

“I think it goes without saying that every team and driver is excited to be in Darlington,” said Johnson.

“We know and understand the impact and the meaning of this race track and what it has done for our sport, the early years and everything in between,” said Johnson. “I’m very happy to be here. I love driving this race track. After winning last year’s race and winning our 200th for Hendrick Motorsports it took it to a whole new level.”

But even for a champion of Johnson’s caliber, there are obstacles to consider.

Johnson spent four months training for a triathlon scheduled for Saturday morning, only to see the plans scuttled so he can attend daughter Evie’s dance recital.

“I’m bummed I’m not going to be able to make that race, because I’m ready and prepared for it,” Johnson said. “At the same time I will be running a camcorder of sorts filming Evie dancing around. It will be good.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.