Is Jimmie Johnson once again peaking at the right time?


Jimmie Johnson knows all about the old phrase, “When you’re hot, you’re hot.”

Johnson has been hot, hot, hot in six of the last eight seasons, capturing the Sprint Cup championship.

And after enduring the worst five-race run of his entire Cup career, Johnson appears back on-track – and just in time for the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s kickoff race this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Starting with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in early July, Johnson recorded finishes of 42nd, 42nd again (Loudon), 14th (Indianapolis), 39th (Pocono 2) and 28th (Watkins Glen).

But since then, JJ has definitely been on a role: ninth at Michigan, followed by a pair of fourth-place finishes at Bristol and Atlanta and an eighth-place showing this past Saturday at Richmond.

To say Johnson is riding into the Chase with momentum is an understatement. As he’s done during most of his Chase runs to date, Johnson appears to be peaking at the right time.

“I’m excited to get started with the Chase,” Johnson said in a media release. “It’s an exciting time for our sport and an exciting time for the Lowe’s team. I’m hoping to get started this weekend in Chicago with a win.”

Other drivers come into the Chase in various stages of success – or not:

* Kyle Busch can empathize with what Johnson went through. The younger Busch brother is finally coming out of one of the worst slides of his career. Starting with last month’s race at Pocono, where he finished 42nd, Busch went on to finish 40th at Watkins Glen, 39th at Michigan and 36th at Bristol. He finally started working his way back into the top-20 with a 16th-place finish at Atlanta and 14th at Richmond. Could a top-10 finish at Chicago, where he has a win and finished second last year (and again the following week at Loudon), be in the cards next?

“It’s important to win (races in the Chase), but I don’t think you need to be ultra-aggressive to get those wins,” Busch said in a team media release. “If you finish second every week, it’s going to get you to Homestead, but you have to win Homestead. Last year, we started out with a second and a second – those would be two great finishes to have again this year if we could have them and try to move on and get into the second round.”

* It’s not time to worry yet, but there may be some concern for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans. Since their favorite driver won the second race at Pocono last month, Junior has just one top-five finish in the following five races. He was 11th at Watkins Glen, fifth at Michigan, 39th at Bristol, 11th at Atlanta and 12th at Richmond. Junior, who has 11 top-fives and five other top-10 finishes thus far in 2014, doesn’t seem overly concerned, though.

“It’s time to get to it,” Earnhardt said in a team media release. “I’m looking forward to sitting down with (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and our engineers to prepare, set our goals for each individual race. Steve has some great ideas and I really believe in his direction. We’ve got a great team around us. We want to put our best foot forward in the Chase and be one of those teams in the battle going into Homestead. But as a company, I don’t think we could be any more prepared than we are.”

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