It could be Johnson the Charlotte dominator, who won five times in six starts between 2003 and 2005 and led at least one lap in 18 consecutive Charlotte starts. That Johnson prompted many to call Bruton Smith’s showplace 1.5-mile track “Jimmie’s House.”
Or it could be the Johnson who finished 25th in the Coca-Cola 600 in May and has a 22.6 average finish at the track since his last Charlotte victory in the fall of 2009. The same Johnson who now counts two DNFs and just one lap led in his last three starts there.
Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 could be pivotal in Johnson’s quest for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. After a 17th-place finish at Talladega, he remains second in the Sprint Cup championship standings, 14 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
Johnson has claimed three Charlotte victories during the Chase era. Only once, however -- in 2009 – did he proceed from Victory Lane at Charlotte to win the Sprint Cup Series championship. His Hendrick Motorsports organization has won 17 times at Charlotte; more than twice as many as their closest pursuers; Roush Fenway Racing and Petty Enterprises, with eight wins each.
While Johnson’s most immediate threat comes from Keselowski, there are other challengers within the Hendrick Motorsports camp. Jeff Gordon has five Charlotte wins and Kasey Kahne has four, including the Coke 600 in May.
Even with his recent struggles, Johnson’s statistics still dwarf the competition. He leads the series in Driver Rating (111.0), Average Running Position (8.2), Fastest Laps Run (488), Green Flag Speed (176.468), Laps in the Top 15 (4,599/85.6%) and Quality Passes (772).
Kahne isn’t far behind. His Driver Rating of 97.5 trails only Johnson and Kyle Busch. He’s posted the second most Fastest Laps Run (453) with an average finish of 12.7 – close behind Johnson’s 11.8. Johnson has 14 Top-10 races in 22 Charlotte races. Kahne has nine in 17 CMS starts.
No matter what the numbers might say, the 2012 championship may well be decided by which Jimmie Johnson shows up for Sunday’s race.