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He has his championships and his place in history. Johnson will always be a threat to contend at Hendrick, and he and doesn’t have to worry about a now-or-never attitude to win a title before his career is over. He’s not Mark Martin in the 2009 Chase.

Like if the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Lakers lose, it’s OK. They’ll be back.

Johnson’s legacy won’t be affected one bit if he fails to win the championship this season.

That doesn’t mean he won’t work like a mad man to hang onto his crown for another year.

“We’re doing all we can, I promise you,” Johnson said. “Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is giving us all that they have. My No. 48 team is committed and focused on doing the best job they can, and I am as well.”

Cool as always, Johnson brushed off speculation that there is any tension brewing between him and crew chief Chad Knaus. When Johnson struggled last week at New Hampshire, he chirped over the radio that Knaus’ cheerleading was “annoying,” and ordered him to stop.

Johnson said that kind of interaction has been part of their relationship since they were paired together in 2002. When the typical top-five finishes aren’t there, those terse conversations become magnified.

Johnson said it was such a non-issue, the two hadn’t bothered to talk about it this week at the shop.

“It wasn’t our finest moment on Sunday, but it’s what we deal with,” he said. “It’s been part of what we’ve been dealing with for 10 years.”

Other championship contenders hope it’s a crack in what’s been a flawless program and a sure sign new champ is on the way.

“I’d like to think we’re the guys that can end it,” Kyle Busch said.

Keselowski cautioned it was too early to discount Johnson, but “I don’t think it looks all that good.”


Johnson has a combined 26 career victories at the eight remaining Chase tracks. He leads all drivers with 19 career Chase wins _ Stewart and Carl Edwards are a distant second with eight.

Hard to top those numbers.

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