Jimmie Johnson rarely falters during the Chase. It is one reason why he was won five straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. But this past Saturday night in Charlotte, Johnson finally faltered.
Johnson was battling Ryan Newman for seventh place with 17 laps to go when he got loose underneath Newman and started to slide. Johnson almost saved it, but over-corrected the car and went almost head-on into the turn two wall.
Johnson left Charlotte in eighth in the points standings, 35 points behind leader Carl Edwards with.
With five races remaining in the Chase, Johnson finds himself in a very deep hole. Some are already saying that Saturday night marked the end of an era, believing that there is no way Johnson can come back to win a sixth-straight title.
But the truth is that Jimmie is by no means out of the running for the 2011 title. Saturday night just made things a little bit harder for the Lowes 48 team, and a little bit more exciting for the fans to watch.
Johnson has come back before. Johnson left Charlotte in 2006 176 points behind the leader with five races remaining. That is a huge deficit under the old points system, and would be a huge deficit even when translated into the new points system (a math that I am not able to do to be honest). Johnson rallied off a string of first, second, second, second, and ninth place finishes in the final five races of the season to win his first NASCAR championship by 56 points over Matt Kenseth.
However, that was when Talladega came before Charlotte. Anything can happen at Talladega. Talladega can be a place that Johnson could gain a lot of points on his competitors if they get involved in the inevitable big wreck and he does not.
Or, Johnson could be involved in a wreck and lose even more points. Johnson has two career wins at Talladega in 19 career starts, but also has seven DNFs.
Jimmie Johnson may be down, deep down, but he is still not out.