Jimmie Johnson made it quite clear in Sunday's Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway that he's serious about winning his third consecutive Sprint Cup title.
He's baaaack … but then again, he never really was gone.
We knew that somewhere, some how, he was around, lurking, waiting to pounce.
And just like the last two seasons, Jimmie Johnson made it quite clear in Sunday's Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway that he's serious about winning his third consecutive Sprint Cup title.
Can that triumph be a form of déjà vu? It sure seems like it. Consider that in 2006, he won one race and recorded four runner-up finishes in the Chase to earn his first championship.
And then last season, Johnson won an incredible four Chase events in a row – along with a runner-up and a third-place finish – to clinch his second straight Cup title.
Sunday's win at Kansas – which also put Johnson back in the points lead – was particularly crucial in light of this Sunday's Amp Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Of all 10 races in the Chase, Talladega is the perennial wildcard event. Because it is the largest and one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, compounded with horsepower-limiting restrictor plates on engines, Talladega is looked at by many as the make-or-break race in the Chase.
Leave there with a good finish and you still have a chance at the championship. Leave there with a poor finish, particularly if you're caught in the so-called "Big One" (a multi-car wreck that can take out a dozen or more cars at a time), and your Chase chances could be all but over with.
"I'm not looking forward to Talladega, but I'm looking forward to everything else after Talladega," Johnson said with a laugh.
But he knows how serious doing well at Talladega – not to mention avoiding any wrecks that might take place around him – truly is.
If Johnson does well at the track they call 'Dega and his closest pursuers – Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle – falter, he could be unstoppable the rest of the way if history has anything to say about it.
But Johnson will do the same exact thing he did the last two years: let history take care of itself. Right now, he has just two things on his minds: not looking past the next race and trying to find a way to stave off his closest challengers.
"Right now, my biggest concern is outrunning the No. 99 (Edwards) and No. 16 (Biffle)," Johnson said. "Winning (at Kansas) is a huge boost of confidence for the team and for myself.
"To be honest with you, looking up at the (score)board, the way we finished, it's hard to get any points on anybody. Five or 10 here or there is nothing. At this pace, it's going to take somebody having some bad luck to get a gap. You're not just going to outrun people week to week like we're all performing right now."
The way Johnson won his first two championships was in contrast to how some other drivers earned championships before him.
Rather than being fiery or anxious like some of his predecessors, Johnson was calm, cool and collected in each of his two title runs. He exhibited a confident air, but at the same time never left anything to chance.
The technical ability of crew chief Chad Knaus, coupled with Johnson's uncanny ability to not only drive the car but to also give Knaus a constant stream of information on how the No. 48 Chevrolet was performing, was crucial.
So, whether you're a Johnson fan or not, expect more of the same in the remaining seven races. After all, when you have a winning formula that is proven by two past championships, why mess with success, right?
"I sucked my whole life until this level of racing," Johnson said. "I took a lot of looks in the mirror, dealt with a lot of kind of looking through my own head, trying to understand what I was doing as a driver.
"I never wanted to blame anyone else. I just looked at myself. I keep a lot to myself and internalize what I do. The second part of that is I have a crew chief that worries about everything, gets riled up about everything. If both of us were wound up all the time, we would be a disaster.
"I've found more success in taking a backseat and letting him get crazy from time to time and talking him off the ledge. It's worked well. I certainly do get upset from time to time, but it doesn't last long. I know it's going to affect what I do in the car. At the end of the day, I want to be sitting (in the media center, talking to reporters about his win). If I'm obsessing over something that went on or mad about a stop or a driver or pit road or whatever it may be, I'm not focusing on driving that car to its limit."
And more often than not, winning once again.
Jerry Bonkowski is National NASCAR Columnist for Yahoo! Sports (Yahoo.com), an on-air personality for Sirius Radio and a featured contributor for Gatehouse News Service. He can be reached at NASCARColumnist@Yahoo.com.
THE CHASE FILE – WEEK FOUR:
--Kyle Busch, who was atop the standings for most of the first 26 races, is now 311 points behind Johnson, last in the Chase standings. Busch's only hope to rebound: to win four or five of the seven remaining Chase races and Johnson, Edwards and Biffle all go into a deep slump. The odds of that happening: extremely unlikely.
--Johnson won four straight races in last year's Chase. With his first Chase win of the year at Kansas this past Sunday, can history repeat itself this season?
--In his last five starts at Talladega, site of the fourth and next Chase race this Sunday, Johnson has one win and two runner-up finishes.
--The only drivers in this year's Chase that still have not recorded a DNF (did not finish) thus far this season: Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick.