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?
May 21, 2015, 11:51 PM EDT
In a bizarre and truly 11th hour circumstance, Tristan Vautier appears set to replace Carlos Huertas in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
May 21, 2015, 5:57 PM EDT
Oriol Servia says a connecting rod was removed that might have prevented the part from piercing the tub and critically injuring driver.
May 21, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
American driver claims his second pole position in GP2 with a mesmerising display in Monaco on Thursday.
May 21, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
The No. 5 beyond Indy 500 could be Daly, Wilson, or A.N. Other.
May 21, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Daniel Abt confirmed to be remaining with his family team for season two of the Formula E series.
May 21, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
Boston confirmed for 2016 and beyond in IndyCar.
May 21, 2015, 3:33 PM EDT
SPM takes four of the top five spots on the Indy Lights grid.
May 21, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
The McLaren driver lends his support to the proposed changes to F1 for 2017.
May 21, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT
Given the circumstances, Ryan Briscoe feels comfortable heading into his fill-in role for James Hinchcliffe in the Indianapolis 500.
May 21, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Williams driver admits that he is flattered to be linked with a drive at a top team, but remains coy when asked about a possible move away for 2016.
May 21, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
Briscoe replacement for James Hinchcliffe made official Thursday morning.
May 21, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Defending world champion says he never contemplated leaving Mercedes for another team.
May 21, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT
Logo and date for the 100th Indianapolis 500 is revealed.
May 21, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT
Hamilton continues his good form by posting the fastest time in FP2 before the rain falls and limits running in Monaco on Thursday.
May 21, 2015, 7:46 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton bids to double up in the second free practice session in Monaco on Thursday.
May 21, 2015, 5:36 AM EDT
Hamilton quickest in a busy FP1 session in Monaco as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo spring a surprise to finish second and third respectively.
May 21, 2015, 3:45 AM EDT
As is tradition in Monaco, practice kicks off on Thursday for the race weekend.
May 20, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT
Jon Beekhuis, veteran IndyCar pit reporter and past driver, provides some valuable insights into the type of crash James Hinchcliffe had on Monday, having been through one similarly in the past.
- IndyCar driver raises concern about design of wishbone that injured James Hinchcliffe in crash 1
- IndyCar confirms Boston race for 2016 1
- F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO) 0
- Hamilton tops quiet second Monaco GP practice 0
- Hamilton quickest in opening practice for Monaco GP 0
- James Hinchcliffe transferred out of ICU, full recovery expected 4
- Tony Kanaan says older part, reinforced suspension contributed to Hinchcliffe’s crash and injury 7