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Five-Time Favorite

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Jimmie Johnson has won five consecutive Sprint Cup trophies. Why should this year be any different? Photo: Getty Images (2010)

As we get into the later parts of the summer and the kids start heading back to school, there are a few inevitabilities to accept as we approach the New England fall:

-The weather will get colder.

-The leaves will change colors.

-Jimmie Johnson will be the favorite to win the Sprint Cup when the SYLVANIA 300 races at NHMS.

Sorry to scare you with the reference to the autumn weather that isn't too far away.  If it makes you feel better, here at the speedway, I haven't had more than three days off in a row since March.  You've probably got more sun and enjoyed more beach time than I have, so complaints of colder weather will fall on deaf ears.

Sorry, also, if you're pulling for Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards or Jeff Gordon or really just someone to knock off Jimmie Johnson.  The bottom line is that until someone proves otherwise: Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR's champion and will continue to remain the favorite.

This past weekend, Kyle Busch won his fourth Cup race of the season to stake his way to a 10-point lead in the standings and clinch his spot in the Chase.  However, while Busch has been the leading the field so far, his rearview mirror is filled with the one thing he'd least like to see: the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet of "Five-Time" Jimmie Johnson.

That metaphor was the reality of this past weekend's Pure Michigan 400.  Johnson led the race late, but Busch appeared to have the better car and came on strong for to pass and hold the lead with Johnson chasing him for the remaining 15 laps.  Only time will tell if Busch can overtake Johnson in similar fashion for the Sprint Cup trophy or if he'll turn into just the next also-ran.  In recent years, many have tried, none have succeeded.

There's always someone that's anointed to be "The One" to unseat Johnson.

- Last year, it was Denny Hamlin, who won eight races and led the standings entering the final race in Homestead.  He finished 14th, while Johnson finished second and won his fifth-consecutive title.

- In 2009, Mark Martin entered the Chase as the top seed and won in the opening race here at NHMS to increase his lead.  Johnson stormed back with four wins over the final nine races to make it no contest on his way to number four.

- In 2008, Carl Edwards won a spectacular nine races with 27 top-10s but that didn't beat Johnson either.

Kyle Busch might be different.  At the age of just 26, Busch has already shown enough success through the NASCAR series to have won 101 total races and is one of the few drivers who has seemed to show the ability to compete with Johnson.

However, like most, Busch has lacked the consistency to keep up.  While he's matured significantly since 2009, nothing symbolized his streakiness more than that season, when he won four races yet still missed the Chase.

Johnson, on the other hand, is as consistent as they come.  At NHMS in July, he didn't appear to have a good race car.  He didn't practice well, qualified 28th, brought out a caution due to a spin with just 70 laps remaining and went on to finish fifth.  That's right, fifth.

All of the struggles and he coasted home to a top-five finish!  As those that have fallen before can attest, it's hard to beat a driver that finds a way to coast home in fifth when nothing has gone as planned on the weekend.

So, go ahead; anoint Kyle Busch as the next driver with a chance to topple Jimmie Johnson.  Or, throw your support behind Carl Edwards or Kevin Harvick or even Brad Keselowski, if you so choose.

But me?  I'm keeping my eggs in the Jimmie Johnson basket.  Until someone proves they can beat the five-time reigning champion, it seems a little foolish to discount a driver, who, by all accounts, is having a better regular season than he usually parlays into a title run.

We've seen this skit before and it always ends the same...with Jimmie Johnson standing on top.