DAYTONA BEACH — Jimmie Johnson is "dialed in," two of the greatest words in NASCAR history.
He is in a smooth groove, the type of dominance that allows you to lead 94 of 161 laps in a race, with barely a worry in your rearview mirror.
Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick were well within reach of Johnson late Saturday night as the Coke Zero 400 came down to another one of NASCAR's signature green-white-checkered finishes.
"They both were really, really strong," Johnson said. "I think that they preserved their cars, and they were sitting on some bullets."
And they shot blanks. Whiff.
Two of the toughest guys in the NASCAR garage had nothing for Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's Chevy. Johnson won going away to become the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to achieve a Daytona Double — winning the Daytona 500 and the summer race here.
Johnson now has four victories and eight Top 5s, giving him a cozy 49-point lead over Clint Bowyer in the Sprint Cup standings in 18 races this season.
It most definitely has the feel of a championship run and a return to dominance for a guy who won an unprecedented five straight Cup championships starting in 2006. Johnson has made the Chase the last two years but couldn't outrun Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski.
And while Stewart and Keselowski are no locks to even make the Chase this season, Johnson will very likely enter the 10-race playoff format as the guy to beat.
"When we get in the Chase there are certain feelings that seem to come around, but right now it's really about managing your team, managing your car, developing the car and things like that," Johnson said. "I feel good. As we get later in the summer and a week or two out, if we're winning races then, the right feeling will start to come along then.
"It's still a little early and we're obviously trying to get every point we can to carry into the Chase with bonus points. But we have a little time before we focus in on that feeling."
True, but the fact that Johnson has won two of the three restrictor-plate races this season — always more of a "who will win the lottery today?" than an actual race — speaks to a spectacular amount of good fortune needed to become a NASCAR champion.
Johnson has the rest covered with his ability.
Johnson was in a proverbial cruise-control at Daytona International Speedway Saturday, leading the final 31 laps. It was the best place to be, as the typical restrictor-plate carnage unfolded behind him late in the race. There were two accidents on the final lap, including an 18-car smash-up as Johnson crossed the finish line.
"This is a 195-mile-an-hour chess match and the lap that pays is Lap 160," Stewart said.
Winner, winner: Johnson. Again.
Not that everybody is impressed. Let's rinse and repeat again, shall we: Talented guy, seems nice enough, but he ain't the marrying kind when it comes to the NASCAR Nation. He's from California, rarely gets into any bump-and-grind shenanigans during a race, and his last name isn't Earnhardt. That's three reasons why some folks hate him despite his dominance during his generation of drivers.
"The cold hard facts of the matter is we could have the best race car out there but if we had some schmuck driving it, it wouldn't get the job done," crew chief Chad Knaus said Saturday night. "I think we've got what is the best racecar driver ever to sit in a Cup car behind the wheel."
And he's dialed in. Big time.