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SI jinx doesn't scare Johnson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson doesn't go in for superstitions or curses or hexes.

The five-time defending NASCAR champion now enters black-cat territory. He's on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The magazine goes on sale Wednesday and it's the second time he's on the cover — the other in 2008 after his third title. This is only the 10th time the magazine has featured NASCAR nationally on the front of the magazine. Bill Elliott was the first NASCAR driver on the cover in 1985.

Johnson, going for a sixth consecutive title, said Tuesday he was unaware of the so-called SI cover jinx.

"There's nothing to worry about. If I lose the championship it has nothing to do with being on the cover of a magazine," he said at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "It would mean we didn't do our jobs, or we had some bad luck and didn't win a race. It's no concern. I didn't realize there was a curse. I thought it was being on the cover of a video game, that was the curse."

Legend has it that bad luck follows athletes and teams featured on the cover. Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews was widely considered to be the first person affected by the jinx after his 1954 cover in the debut year of SI. He broke his hand afterward and missed seven games.

More recent examples: Olympic gold medal hopeful Lindsey Vonn injuring her leg the same week she was on the cover in 2010; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler injuring his knee and the Bears losing to Green Bay after Cutler was on the cover before January's NFC championship game. Last month, the Buffalo Bills were featured regionally for the first time since 2003 and promptly lost to Cincinnati.

Johnson has always believed he's in charge of his fate and isn't superstitious beyond admittedly fixating on his car No. 48 when setting alarms.

"I was (superstitious) early in my career and over time nothing ever, ever really made a difference and I quickly aborted," he said. "I just don't think it changes the setup of the car or makes anything work any better, you know?"

Johnson won Sunday at Kansas to move to third in the standings. He trails leader Carl Edwards by four points with six races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Although he took delight last weekend on Twitter over a fortune cookie he opened at Kansas — the paper inside promised rewards for hard work within the month — he insisted Tuesday he didn't put much faith in the words.

And he's hesitant to look too far ahead in his bid to win another title.

He was written off two weeks ago, after an 18th-place run at New Hampshire dropped him to 10th in the standings. Although he was only 29 points off the lead, many were quick to predict Johnson couldn't climb out of that hole and retain his title.

Then he finished second at Dover to move up five spots in the standings. The win at Kansas raised him another two spots, putting him right back in the hunt.

Johnson said he's proof that nobody has any idea who will win the title.

"I just hope people understand and use me as an example to not jump too quickly on any driver moving forward," Johnson said. "There's just a lot of racing left. There's six races left, and this championship is still wide open for anyone to get."