Is 2 races too soon to count Johnson out of hunt?

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His little spat with Knaus, in the grand scheme of things, was nothing to be alarmed about and not all that out of the ordinary. Little has been said about Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch or Kevin Harvick, who all got testy on the radio at times Sunday.

Then there’s Stewart, the sudden points leader after wins in the first two Chase races, who cryptically credited the removal of some “dead weight” as reason for his surge. His refusal to elaborate left most everyone wondering about his current state of mind.

Sure, Johnson is in a hole right now. But nobody is immune from a bad race or two, Stewart isn’t going to win all 10 Chase races, and Johnson has some very good tracks looming.

Johnson has a combined 26 career victories at the eight remaining Chase tracks. In 129 starts, he’s got 94 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 9.8.

First up is Round 3 of the Chase, at Dover, where Johnson has six career victories. Toss out crashes in 2003 and 2004, and Johnson’s lowest finish is 16th. He’s got three wins in his last five visits to Dover, including a victory in last year’s Chase.

He’s been down in the Chase before, maybe not this low, and not under the 43-to-1 points system that went into effect this season. Only Johnson and Knaus know if their Hendrick Motorsports team is off a tick this year, and they just can’t run at the same level they did the past five years.

But even if they did, they’d still give it everything they have down to the final checkered flag.

“My optimism is still high,” Johnson said. “These first two races did not start as we had hoped that they would, but eight to go, there’s still a lot that can happen. Past experience really helps with the mental side of it going into the next event and for my guys.

“Not the day that we wanted, but we’ll come back strong next week.”

Only a fool would doubt that.

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