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Is this the Year that Chasers Catch-up with 'The Perfect Storm?'

In 2006, Jimmie Johnson won what was then the Nextel Cup championship, and the next year the race figured to be wide open. In 2007, he won it again , and it was like, wow, that was impressive. 

By 2008, well, damned if Johnson hadn’t equaled the mark of the great Cale Yarborough. In 2009, he surpassed the mark of the great Yarborough. During the season recently completed, what Johnson seemed to be declaring is what is often credited to something known as The Borg in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” “Resistance is futile.” That television series ran from 1987 through 1994, which might wind up being how long Johnson winds up being the dominating force of NASCAR.

One quote leads to another, one that dates back to 1732: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

It’s tempting to offer the opinion that all the other Sprint Cup teams, be they mildly Chevy, Toyota, Ford or Dodge, are now redoubling their efforts, except, of course, that since they’ve been “redoubling” for five years now, it’s difficult to come up with a term in English that captures the acceleration such a task requires.

2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32. In order to deprive Johnson of a sixth straight championship, the presumed successor will have doubled his effort 32 times. Seems like a bit of a chore, huh?

It’s just hard to keep that cup half full in the face of half a decade’s evidence that it is half empty. The latest redoubling was almost enough. Johnson won the title by only 39 points over Toyota’s Denny Hamlin and 41 over fellow Chevy pilot, Kevin Harvick. Ford’s Carl Edwards finished fourth, and since he won the season’s final two races, deserves inclusion in the also-ran category that, here in the winter of discontent, logically figures to give Johnson a run for his (incredibly large amount of) money in 2011.

Here’s what the aforementioned half a decade of rule has demonstrated with certainty about Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the cast of hundreds that supports them: When the final 10 races – also known as “The Chase” – arrive, Johnson will do better than in the 26 races preceding it. Maybe, after five years of proclaiming that the key to winning the championship was “taking it one race at a time” and “doing what we’ve been doing all year,” the other contenders are finally wising up.

In five years of championships, not once has Johnson led the standings at the end of the regular season. In 2010, he ranked sixth until the points were, by rule, realigned for the Chase. Johnson knows what others haven’t seemed to realize. Leading at the end of the regular season is a waste of effort.

Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.” Jimmie Johnson may not have actually said, “The Chase isn’t everything, it is the only thing,” but he certainly realizes it.

Maybe, just maybe, at long last, Johnson has some vulnerability. Perhaps his weakness is … his strength.

“I’ll take ‘NASCAR Trivia” for 100, Pat.”

“And the answer is: ‘Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick claimed these informal distinctions in each of the past five Sprint Cup seasons.” Buzz.

“Miriam …” “Who were the regular-season point leaders?”

This, of course, could not actually happen on Jeopardy. It’s simply too hard, too trivial, too impossible to recall. Winning the regular season means nothing, as Johnson has made abundantly clear. Yes, Johnson accumulated more points than anyone else during the 2010 Chase, but he only won one of the 10 races, his lowest total since 2006. No one else on his Hendrick Motorsports team won a single race during the entire season. Maybe this will be the year someone – anyone! – catches up with The Chase’s 'Perfect Storm' (who, in human form, happens to drive the No. 48). Few will predict it though, because contrary to popular belief, many journalists, commentators, analysts and propagandists actually have sense.

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