Jun 16, 2014, 12:24 PM EDT
The free-for-all has given way to familiarity.
The first seven races of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series produced seven different winners, and by Memorial Day weekend, that number had grown to nine.
Missing among those winners was Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion.
But while we fretted over if and when he would get on the board in 2014, Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team stayed calm.
Constantly maintaining that he felt no pressure to win, Johnson may have come off like a broken record to some in the early months of the season.
But he knew that his team would figure out the new rules package. He knew that he’d return to form. And in hindsight, we all knew that too.
Now he’s rattled off three wins in the last four Sprint Cup points races, taking over the top seed on the current Chase grid. The Memorial Day weekend win at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 broke open the dam, and has led to his ninth career Dover triumph and now, his first-ever victory at the Michigan International Speedway.
No doubt this familiarity will breed some contempt among the NASCAR fan base who are sick of all things Johnson after years of his dominance of the sport.
But no matter. The 48 team doesn’t care. They’re NASCAR’s answer to the San Antonio Spurs (and yes, I know I’m not the only writer to make that comparison).
They just want to win, they’d prefer to do it with class, and they’ve been together long enough to know success and failure – and that the opinions of the outside world don’t really matter.
“We’ve lost races together. We’ve lost championships together. And certainly we’ve had success,” Johnson said Sunday. “But 69 wins and six championships out of 13 years of racing is a pretty small percentage.
“Some of the losses you have are — you got what you could that day and you went on, but a lot of those losses in there sting, and I think experience through those moments make us stronger and better.
“Everybody knows about 2005 and the milk and cookies meeting that Rick had with us. I think from that moment on, we were able to be more comfortable, oddly enough, in our own skin, and as a part of Team 48. Nobody is going anywhere. We’re in this thing together, and we are Team 48.”
In such situations, you build up a lot of trust. It’s that trust that allowed Johnson to sense what crew chief Chad Knaus had up his sleeve heading into what proved to be their final stop with 35 laps remaining.
“When he pulled me to pit lane and the gap that I had over the second spot at that time, I knew that four [tires] would be the call,” said Johnson, who was leading at the time.
“You may as well put four on if you’ve got time for it. He made that call and got out on the track…Just going off the tone of his voice and what he was asking me to do with the car, and he kept asking me to save my tires in case there was a caution. I knew we were good on fuel, so that gave me a lot of optimism.
“And then honestly, once we had our four tires on and fuel in our car, if the caution came out, I still think we were golden. We had enough [fuel] to go the distance whereas everybody else was short.”
But Johnson didn’t have to worry about a caution. The race stayed green for those final 35 laps, and as car after car pitted, Johnson kept moving forward until he finally reclaimed the lead with nine laps left.
Of course, Johnson’s been known to have on-track problems ruin his day at Michigan, so it wasn’t signed, sealed, and delivered at that point. But this time, the car held up and it was his day at last in the Irish Hills.
However, even though Johnson and the 48 team have overcome their early-season performance issues, Knaus believes that there’s still some tightening up to do.
“The fact of the matter is I think we’ve got to be a little bit better,” he said. “Last week, [Hendrick Motorsports] were a whisker away from losing that one. This weekend, maybe we were one pit call away from not winning this one.
“We’ve got to continue to improve our product so by the time we get to the Chase, we’re where we need to be.”
Funny…It sure looks like they’re at that point right now, doesn’t it?
Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”
Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.
Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.
Sep 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: Highlights from Kasey Kahne’s clutch Atlanta win; assessing Tony Stewart’s comeback; the Chase outlook with one regular season race left; more problems in pits for Kevin Harvick.
Sep 1, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s TORC: The Off-Road Championship season finale at Crandon, Wisconsin. NBCSN will air the races this Saturday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…
Sep 1, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT
For Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson, winning on Saturday night will be all that matters if they want a spot in the Chase.
Sep 1, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing end as the top single-car teams in 2014, before merging in 2015.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
Kasey Kahne saves his season in Atlanta, while Will Power changes his career in Fontana.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Carlos Munoz takes home the top rookie honors after a successful first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sep 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Honda’s motorsport chief provides an update on the company’s F1 engine progress.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT
IndyCar championship banquet goes off quickly, smoothly with a good bit of humor.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT
The result beats her previous high water mark of seventh this past May at Kansas.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — It was a rough night for a number of drivers in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, including Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT
Matt Kenseth enters the post-season with a second place result, while Clint Bowyer finds himself outside the Chase Grid going into next Saturday’s regular season finale.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne’s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – It was not the comeback that Tony Stewart had hoped for.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Tony Stewart’s return to competition tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway has encountered some trouble after a restart run-in with “Rowdy.”
Schumacher (TF), Hagan (FC), Line (PS), Krawiec (PSM) ones to beat in Monday’s NHRA U.S. Nationals finals
Aug 31, 2014, 9:08 PM EDT
Following Sunday’s final round of qualifying, Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will lead their respective classes as No. 1 qualifiers for Monday’s final eliminations of the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Aug 31, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — There was no question which driver received the most applause and cheers during driver introductions prior to the start of Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Video from NASCAR America
- NASCAR AMERICA: Assessing Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta (VIDEO) 1
- Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power 2
- Honda preps for first simulations, expresses confidence it can match Mercedes 4
- Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go 1
- Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase 1
- Tony Stewart’s comeback hopes end with rough 41st-place finish at Atlanta 2
- Tony Stewart the obvious fan favorite during pre-race introductions at Atlanta 3