Jimmie Johnson says he is confident of launching a strong challenge for what would be an unprecedented fourth successive NASCAR Sprint Cup title in 2009, admitting it would be 'off the chart' if he were to achieve the feat.
The Hendrick Motorsports man goes into the new season, which begins this weekend with the non-championship Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, as the man to beat after taking his third title last year, but is likely to face tough opposition from all angles as he looks to add to his already impressive resume.
Indeed, members of the press have already tipped 2008 runner-up Carl Edwards as their favourite for the crown in a poll carried out on NASCAR's media website but Johnson insisted that he and the #48 Lowes crew were ready to defend their title.
“Looking forward to this year we are very proud of what we've done but nobody has that feeling of wow we've made it, we've won three, let's throw it up into neutral and cruise,” he said. “Every team meeting we've had and everything we've talked about is winning races and winning a championship. It's not winning the 41st race or winning the fourth championship, we still treat it as a race and a championship. I don't know if I'm really conveying it correctly but it's just in the simple mindset for us that we just want to win, that's what we do.
“I do feel that we have a very good chance of winning a fourth championship. We have the tools. If we can be organised and composed come September like we've done the last three years, I think we really have a chance. If you show up to the Chase trying to catch up you've got your hands full and you have to count on what's coming your way. The last three years we've been ready for the Chase, we've been ready to go out and race for wins. We've really had to win a lot of races to beat these guys and win the championship. Our goal is to be organised come September and hope things go our way.”
NASCAR's testing ban mean the new season will kick off with plenty of questions to be asked over who the form men will be, but Johnson said he expected his main challengers to be the same drivers who proved to be strong towards the conclusion of 2008. However, he was also quick to point out that all things are equal at the start of a new year and challenges could come from anywhere.
“I think with no testing, nobody has an idea [who will be strong] and I look back at who was strong at the end of last year and kind of rank things from there,” he said. “I expect a bunch of those Roush cars were very fast. There are some other teams as well, but I think the #16 (Greg Biffle) and the #17 (Matt Kenseth) and the #99 (Carl Edwards), those guys were all really strong so I think out of the gate, California and Vegas we're going to be dealing with the Roush cars.
“[However] Last year at the media tour at the race shop before we started, we said we were tied for 43rd in points and we feel that way again. We have to go out and earn our spot in the Chase, fight to race wins and earn this fourth championship. It's just not going to come to us and we recognize that and we love the challenge. This is what we do. This is who we are and we just want to race. If we don't win this championship we'll certainly be disappointed and I would love to be history and not a part of history you know being tied with Cale [Yarborough]. If it does happen I don't even know what the hell it would mean. It would just be off the charts.”