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Johnson hoping that this time, his seven-point lead after Texas holds up

Nov 3, 2013, 11:16 PM EDT

AAA Texas 500 Getty Images

After he won last fall at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson led the Sprint Cup championship by seven points over Brad Keselowski. One year later, Johnson finds himself in largely the same situation.

After thrashing the competition in today’s AAA Texas 500, he’s leading the championship once again by seven points going into next Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. But Johnson hopes that this year won’t end like last year did.

Last fall at PIR, his right front tire blew out and caused him to crash with 77 laps to go. Johnson had to spend time in the garage for repairs and finished 32nd that day, and the incident opened the door for Keselowski to take the championship lead with a sixth-place finish.

The Penske Racing pilot would then go on to clinch the 2012 title in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of course, with Keselowski being unable to qualify for the Chase, there’s a new obstacle standing between Johnson and a sixth Cup championship this year: Matt Kenseth, who finished fourth today to keep pace.

Johnson said that he feels better this year about going to PIR than he did last year, but noted that his gut feelings about winning a championship hasn’t always come true.

“It’s so weird, because I’ve been in position before where I’ve had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row,” he said. “There were other years where I had those feelings, and it didn’t happen.

“I think 2004, we had everything going our way it seemed like, and it didn’t happen. Last year was another good example of us taking control late in the Chase, and then that ended with two bad races.”

With that in mind, Johnson plans to keep doing what he’s been doing even though the game with Kenseth is now basically mano-a-mano.

“I guess the lesson in all of that is I’m not counting on anything, and I have to go to Phoenix and race – same [for] Homestead,” he said.

“…I’m not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I’m going to work real hard and train my butt off. Stay in this little world that I’ve been living in for the last five or six months, but more so, the last eight weeks, and show up ready to go these next two weeks.”

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