With 6th title in sight, Johnson stays in the present

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By finishing 23rd or better this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jimmie Johnson will claim his sixth Sprint Cup championship and continue to build his argument as one of the best that NASCAR has ever seen.

But right now, his mind is focused on what lies ahead in the next three days – putting the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet up front tomorrow in qualifying, fine-tuning the car through Saturday, and then get the job done in Sunday’s season-finale.

As he said Thursday during a press conference at Homestead, Johnson is a guy that lives in the present. The time to count up all the accolades will come later.

“I’ve not been one to look at stats and pay attention to what’s been ahead of me and use that as motivation,” Johnson explained. “I also think a lot of that is due to the fact that I didn’t win a lot growing up – I didn’t grow up thinking that way.”

Those days are long gone. 66 wins and five titles with Hendrick Motorsports later, Johnson and his team have become the standard-bearers and the group that everybody strives to beat.

And with that proverbial target on his back, Johnson’s job to stay on top is a never-ending one. Considering his future place in history does not help in completing that job. Thus, he chooses not to dwell upon that often.

“Of course, yes, I’d love to win this year – I’d love to win a seventh or an eighth, just go on and on,” Johnson said. “That’s what you want to do. Is it realistic? I have no clue. And, honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.”

Not that Johnson is completely immune to such thoughts. He noted that a friend of his once told him that limits begin when the vision ends. And with that, he tries to, in his words, “think a little bit and dream” every now and then.

How far does that dream go? Those seventh and eighth championships that would tie and then surpass both the beloved Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr.? Or maybe, something even more incredible – say, 10 titles perhaps?

That’s all for us to ponder over, though. Again, Johnson isn’t one to worry about the future and where his place will be among the greats. What matters to him is what’s happening now – namely, making sure he defeats Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick to get that championship “six-pack.”

“That’s just the way I’ve been,” he said. “Show up at the race track each week, count the races that go by, and hope you’ll have a shot at the end.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.