The five-time NASCAR champion taking a big leg up on Number Six (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
In the NASCAR world at the moment there are two types of people: those who are Jimmie Johnson, and those who are not.
And the gap between those two worlds appears to be growing much wider.
As the stock car tour crisscrosses the country and heads toward the halfway mark in a few weeks, Johnson is chewing up rivals, as he did here Sunday in winning the Pocono Party 400.
Not only that:
-- It looks like Toyota rivals are taking a step off their game, in the wake of a key management shakeup, and with quality control problems and blown engines at issue.
-- It also looks like Ford rivals are a step slow too, for unclear reasons.
Ford's Carl Edwards, second in the Sprint Cup standings, started next to Johnson on the front row, led nine laps, and looked to have a good shot at a top-three finish...until a late race pit stop proved costly, with loose lug nuts dropping him back in the pack. He wound up 18th.
Toyota's Clint Bowyer, third in the standings, never challenged, never even got close to the front, and finished 15th.
Only Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson's teammate, had any decent chances of tripping up Johnson.
The upshot of all this is that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus head up the road this week to Michigan having padded their already comfortable points spread.
Johnson could even take a week off...which he joked about, with a nod toward the Richmond-September playoff cut .
"If Channy goes into labor early, then we don't have to worry about Richmond," Johnson says with a laugh.
Jimmie Johnson, Chandra and daughter Genevieve Marie...and another one on the way (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Was the Dover loss still on his mind here?
"I wanted to prove a point, in that restart zone," Johnson said. "But I couldn't do it to a teammate (Dale Earnhardt Jr., his toughest competition here).
"So I'll save that for another day."
The win wasn't vengeance. But Johnson did make a point.
"It doesn't make up for much," he said. "But we know we are a great race team. Things won't keep us down."
However bright things appear right now for Johnson, Knaus and Team Chevy, there are storm clouds on the horizon -- Ford's Greg Biffle is firing them:
"This car (the 2013s) likes clean air. We've really struggled this season, but once we got some track position we were pretty good.
"Jimmie was definitely in a league of his own.
"We need a couple more weeks before we're going to run like that."
Ford's Greg Biffle: not pleased at getting outrun by Chevy guys (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
On the final restart, with four to go, Biffle, starting third, outside behind Johnson, made his bid:
"Once I shoved Jimmie and got him going, I was hoping he would do what he did the last restart -- when he went to the bottom to block Junior....and I could have pulled up beside him.
"But I shoved him too good.
"The only thing I could do was give him a little shove, and wiggle him. That's the only way somebody was going to beat him.
"I was willing to try anything I could, but I just didn't get close enough."
Most of the afternoon Biffle didn't appear to be a factor.
"It was definitely a struggle for us," he said. "We had two pit stops that weren't the greatest. We hung a lug nut.
"And we were struggling for track position all day.
"We were really, really good in turn one, and really good in the tunnel turn -- it's been many, many years since I've been that good across the tunnel.
"But I was terrible in turn three.
"Anything I would gain in those two corners, I would lose back all the way back down the front. And then I couldn't get beside him to pass him in one and two.
"Most of the top-five cars were probably a little faster than we were on shear speed. But it's track position -- and you've got to pass the guy.
"Clearly we're not celebrating that we finished second, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. We certainly ran better here than we have been all season, and that's a positive.
"It's frustrating as a driver to not have maybe the equipment or downforce or whatever that the other guys do. But I don't work on them; I don't build them. All I do is drive them.
"I wish our cars were as good as those guys right now. But we keep working on them every week and make them better.
"They clearly have the best cars in the garage. They're going to show up in Michigan and be fast.
"When you're on a roll, you're on a roll."
At the other end of the emotional spectrum was Kasey Kahne. He's been hot at several tracks this spring, but his luck has been erratic. And Sunday he was out of the game right at the start. He spent 20 laps in the garage for repairs.
Something went wrong with his transmission: "We have no idea yet. When I took off, in second gear, I had no power, and it was just vibrating like crazy... and then in third and fourth.
"The faster I went, the worse the vibration was.
"I came in, and they changed a bunch of stuff, and I went out and was perfectly fine and had a lot of speed.
"They changed a lot of things, but nothing was wrong. In looking at everything, it all looked fine."
Kurt Busch again had a fast car, at least top-five. "But a mistake on my part on pit road stalled our momentum," he said, of the point where he overshot his pit box on lap 126 of the 160-lapper. "But we battled back with a solid finish. To win you have to be perfect out there and we weren't today."
NASCAR's low-tech solution to drivers not seeing exactly where the restart zone is (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)