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 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Marsh, Cameron on the move to Action Express.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
Fernandes claims he didn’t receive full payment for Caterham, the new owners claim they haven’t received their shares, Bernie Ecclestone says he is trying to remedy the situation – but all the while, workers are locked out of the factory, putting the team’s hopes of making Austin in doubt.
Oct 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Brendan Gaughan back for another year with RCR in XFINITY.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez signed up for COTA fan forum.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Wurth renews for multiyear deal.
Oct 22, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski is flattered people might compare him with the late Dale Earnhardt, but he’ll be the first to say he’s not the new Intimidator in NASCAR.
Oct 22, 2014, 8:18 PM EDT
Perhaps the greatest collection of original Indianapolis 500 pace cars will soon be on display at an upcoming car show in suburban Chicago.
Oct 22, 2014, 7:36 PM EDT
For most Canadians, their homebrewed beer choice is typically Labatts or Molson. But countryman and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is starting to get some traction with his own beer brand, Hinchtown Hammer Down (HHD).
Oct 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman took a spin around Martinsville Speedway in the NBC race simulator to show why the paper-clip shaped track can be extremely difficult.
Oct 22, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT
In a stunning move that could potentially threaten his bid for a record-extending 17th NHRA Funny Car championship, John Force announced Wednesday that veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock has resigned, effective immediately.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT
Crew chiefs, road crews for Nos. 10 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing cars will swap starting at Texas.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
More murky messaging from Leafield as Caterham’s future hangs in the balance.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
When you drive a car that produces nearly 10,000 horsepower and reaches speeds approaching 330 mph, a hurricane with wind speeds over 100 mph is nothing. That was the case Sunday for NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Ken Block, Matthew Wilson make WRC returns for this weekend’s Rally Spain.
Oct 22, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT
Sixteen-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force is expected to make a major announcement concerning John Force Racing later Tuesday afternoon.
Oct 22, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Kurt Busch’s 2015 paint scheme adds more red.
Oct 22, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT
Lotus will have a new sponsor for Austin that’s beginning, but called Endless.
Oct 22, 2014, 11:06 AM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be featured for UPMC campaign that seeks to change the conversation about concussions.
Oct 22, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT
Series of competition changes announced by NASCAR on Wednesday.
Oct 22, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
Sam Michael to leave McLaren at year’s end, the team confirms.
Video from NASCAR America
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- Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick will swap crews at Stewart-Haas (UPDATED) 10
- Statement from Caterham provides unclear future for team’s plans (UPDATED) 3
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. featured in new concussion awareness initiative (VIDEO) 0
- NASCAR AMERICA: Jeff Gordon’s “Drive For Five” continues at Martinsville (VIDEO) 0
- NASCAR won’t penalize Ryan Newman, No. 31 team for Talladega infraction 0