Jimmie Johnson says he is just staying in the moment and not thinking about prospects of becoming a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion heading into this year's Chase.
The reigning champion starts the 10-race playoff series from second place in the standings thanks to his five wins during the regular season, a statistic only bettered by Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin. However, before the points were reset for the start of the Chase, Johnson was sixth in the drivers' standings, which is the lowest he has been for the past five years after the first 26 races. Three crashes and one mechanical failure have caused him four non-finishes, the highest number of DNFs he has had before the Chase since his first title in 2006.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver heads into the Chase as the most recent winner at this weekend's venue New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he won for the fifth time this year. He claims that it is still early to set a strategy aimed at winning a fifth title, as he tries to unload the pressure of defending his Sprint Cup series crown.
"I really don't think about that stuff," said Johnson about his chances of making further history this year as the first five-time consecutive champion in the series. "As of right now I'm just trying to keep it as simple as possible, just going into this weekend, having a good race, and we ran so well here in the spring that I'm much more at ease than I've been in other years. This is one of the tracks we need we take advantage of and we're shooting at this weekend with winning that in mind.
"You really can't be too emotionally attached to things. You can only try as hard as you can and there's nothing more that you can do than 100 percent. If we show up and stay focused on our team and our job this week, we give 100 percent, we'll look around and kind of evaluate things with two or three races to go and then at that point you probably form a strategy. But until then you've just got to stay in your little bubble and worry about your team."
Despite being an obvious favorite to win another championship, Johnson reckons there are a number of drivers showing enough strength to pose a real challenge for this year's title. While he and Denny Hamlin have claimed the most wins thus far, he believes Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards should be considered as serious championship contenders.
Johnson says his previous titles do not necessarily make him the target for rivals and states that as long as he and his team give their best in the final 10 races of the season, he would not be disappointed if he were to see the end of his championship run this year.
"The world I live in has just collecting points," said Johnson. "Denny and I have been in the same situation and we've got pretty hot and cold. I still look at the 29 [Harvick] and say, regardless of track, they've been collecting a ton of points.
"You look at the 99 [Edwards] and I think he's probably collected the most points lately. I want to have the target on the back, I want to be that guy but I've got to go out and kind of earn that.
"I'll be angry if we didn't do everything we could to win the championship. We have a gauge of the effort that's put in from the team, myself, how we perform on pit road, how the cars drive, and if we just have a terrible Chase and we flop around and and don't perform, I'll be pissed. If we go out there and we race well and win races and run up front and get beaten, we get beaten. That I can live with."
Johnson currently leads all drivers in number of wins during Chase races with a total of 18, 12 more than his closest rivals, Roush Fenway's Edwards and Greg Biffle, both also in this year's playoff.