LONG POND, Pa. — Carl Edwards fears may have come true this season.
In the 11 weeks leading up to Jimmie Johnson’s victory in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, Edwards was among a number of drivers asked at various times if he was “worried” about Johnson having yet earned a win this season.
“You guys asked me before if I was worried about Jimmie because he was on a losing streak,” Edwards said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “I am worried about him now for the opposite reason.”
After picking up another win last weekend at Dover, Del., Johnson enters Sunday’s Pocono 400 with the opportunity to win at least three points races in a row for the third time in his Sprint Cup Series career.
He has done it twice previously, during the 2004 and 2007 seasons. Johnson became the first driver to accomplish the feat since Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon won the last two races of the 1998 season and the first one in 1999.
In the span of two weeks, the talk surrounding Johnson has gone from “What’s wrong?” to the inevitability of a record-tying seventh Cup series title.
“Last year we had some great speed in our race cars, and I really think we had an opportunity for the sweep,” said Johnson, who won this race a year ago, “and unfortunately blew a tire off Turn 1 after having a dominant day (in the August race), taking ourselves out of that opportunity for a win.
“It’s a new year and a new rules package, so we have to work on that and hopefully have what we need here.”
Johnson is off to a good start. He was fifth fastest in Friday’s practice session and will start 20th.
One of the reasons Edwards said he never doubted Johnson and his team’s potential this season is their track record of success.
“I could sit up here all day and deny that I think they are good enough to win the championship, but at the end of the day they are,” said Edwards, who qualified 10th Friday. “They are good enough to win the championship year-in and year-out.
“They are basically the only team to continually operate and perform at a high level, and everyone is aware of it. That is the model, definitely performance-wise; it is the model of how all of us would like to perform.”
Although the task of beating Johnson may seem daunting – perhaps more so with his victories in the past two races – the payoff is enormous.
“If someone does beat them, specifically this year while they are in this position in their careers, it will make it that much better,” Edwards said.
“I would be extremely proud to beat them for the championship. That would mean a lot to me.”
For now, Johnson will work on another win, which would, at least for the time being, leave him as the No. 1 seed entering the Chase.
“We are coming in with what we feel is the optimized race car and will have a ton of speed and put us where we were before here,” Johnson said. “But until you get out there and make some laps you just don’t know.”
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