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.”

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski