LONG POND, Pa. — Matt Kenseth furrowed his brow at the mere suggestion Jimmie Johnson had spiraled toward a slump.
Only a chump would count out the champ after an 0 for 11 start.
“I don’t think anybody else was really being like, ‘Oh man, Jimmie’s finally not winning. This is our shot, he’s done,’ ” Kenseth said.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that he won those two races and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he wins this weekend.”
Coming off consecutive wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and at Dover, Johnson storms into today’s Pocono Raceway trying to become the first driver to win three in a row since 2007.
The last driver to threepeat?
Johnson, of course. He steamrolled to five consecutive victories in 2007 en route to 10 total and the second of five consecutive championships.
He won his sixth last season and has stamped himself as a heavy favorite to add a record-tying seventh title.
He’s certainly at the right track to make it 3 for 3: Johnson has three career wins at Pocono, including a dominant victory last June.
“We can swing for the fences here, which makes that a lot of fun,” Johnson said.
It’s tough to guess what made it tougher for the rest of the field – a winless Johnson on a determined hunt for the first checkered flag or the No. 48 Chevrolet on a winning streak and wanting more.
“(The media) asked me before if I was worried about Jimmie because he was on a losing streak,” Carl Edwards said.
“I am worried about him now for the opposite reason.”
Johnson’s two wins make him a lock for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, which means he can use what’s left of the season before the final 10 races as sort of a test session to fine-tune his setups on the 48.
Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, has always been at his best with time to prepare.
Johnson’s six championships are behind only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s record seven titles. Knaus trails only Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman, who won eight championships – seven with Petty and one with Terry Labonte.
The Pocono Raceway will have a different look this year. The curb on Turn 2, also known as the Tunnel Turn because of its location above the entrance to the infield, has been removed.
The curb shot drivers up on the 2½-mile track and was widely considered one of the toughest in NASCAR. Pocono instead created a 15-foot apron designed to improve safety and let drivers feel more comfortable attempting faster speeds through the turn.
“That curb before was kind of a race killer,” 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski said.
GOOGLE MAPS: Pocono Raceway became the first track to partner with Google Business View Program, a division of Google Maps, and Aerial Media Productions. Still photos and 360-view Photo Spheres, including the Google Tour, are being shot by Business Photo America, a Google-trusted agency. The footage is expected to be ready by the end of the month.