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?
Oct 31, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force will make a major sponsorship announcement Saturday in Las Vegas, and is expected to follow that up Tuesday with what major auto manufacturer he’ll be aligned with in 2015.
Oct 31, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Kenseth says the only way he’d feel a little better about it is if Harvick manages to make the Championship Race.
Tony Stewart sets fastest qualifying speed ever on 1.5-mile track (200.111 mph), but Matt Kenseth wins pole at Texas
Oct 31, 2014, 8:17 PM EDT
Matt Kenseth won the pole Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, but Tony Stewart lived up to his nickname and smoked the field with the fastest qualifying speed ever on a 1.5-mile track.
Oct 31, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Complete with news and analysis, here is all of the action from the COTA paddock on practice day for the United States Grand Prix.
Oct 31, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, America’s great F1 hopeful speaks about recent events at Marussia and his hopes for the future.
Oct 31, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
An on-the-ground perspective of the speed, sound and crowd from Austin second practice.
Racing legend Dan Gurney earns one of rarest and most prestigious awards for lifetime achievements (video)
Oct 31, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Very few race car drivers deserve to be called “legendary.” Dan Gurney is most definitely one of those, and was honored this week with the Edison-Ford Medal for his incomparable lifetime achievements.
Oct 31, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
17-year-old Toro Rosso driver continues to prove that age is simply a number in racing.
Oct 31, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Austin Dillon was the fastest driver in Friday’s final Nationwide Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway. The defending NNS champ who is now in his rookie season in Sprint Cup, Dillon is making his first NNS start this season in Saturday’s race.
Oct 31, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Gauging the pulse of the fans on site at Austin.
Oct 31, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
The Outlaw attempts the “Candy Corn Challenge” – fitting 100 pieces inside his mouth.
Oct 31, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Is there more to Fernando’s future than just McLaren?
Oct 31, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Administrators still hoping to get the team racing in Abu Dhabi, but will aim for the grid in 2015 if this is not possible.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Reddick captures his second Truck pole in the last three races.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
British driver finishes just 0.003 seconds ahead of Rosberg in FP2, equating to just 6.7 inches around the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The six-time Sprint Cup champion is driving the No. 48 Lowe’s “Red Vest” Chevrolet this weekend.
Oct 31, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Finnish driver has endured a difficult return to Maranello in 2014 after five years away.
Oct 31, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Chase competitors Kevin Harvick and points leader Jeff Gordon crack the Top 5 speeds.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Can Lewis Hamilton double up in the second practice session in Austin? Join us from 3p ET to find out.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
FIA confirms that the German driver has taken a sixth complete power unit, and will have to start the race from the pit lane at COTA.
Video from NASCAR America
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- Hamilton inches away from Rosberg to top FP2 at COTA 0
- Sebastian Vettel to start United States GP from pit lane 0
- Hamilton quickest in first practice for United States GP 1
- 2014 United States Grand Prix Preview 0
- Road To: Mercedes teaser – The very first Mercedes-Benz car (VIDEO) 0