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 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, 10:39 AM EDT
It’s expected that the Nos. 10 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing cars will swap crews starting at Texas.
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.
Oct 21, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
The championship contender talks about his reputation during a Monday night appearance at Texas Motor Speedway.
Oct 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
As NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty explains, the new Chase format has created something that NASCAR hasn’t seen before.
Oct 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
A ninth Martinsville win on Sunday would put Gordon into the Championship Race at Homestead. Check out his interview with NASCAR AMERICA’s Jason Weigandt about his success at M’Ville and more.
Oct 21, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
Logano admits he should’ve given Patrick more space on the race track two weekends ago.
Oct 21, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Extended interviews with Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, and Carl Edwards also coming up on today’s episode of NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 21, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
A source tells Reuters that the legal action is not expected to impact the racing activities of the team, which is owned by a separate entity.
Oct 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards can launch themselves into the Championship at Homestead with a win this weekend.
Oct 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Kyle Fowler joins the Sprint Cup grid at Martinsville.
Oct 21, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
NASCAR says damage sustained during Sunday’s GEICO 500 was the cause of his car being too low in post-race inspection.
Oct 21, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
The Indy Lights grid is beginning to take shape for 2015.
Oct 21, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT
Total’s CEO dies in plane crash; this could have motorsports impact.
Oct 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Porsche provides five young drivers shot to learn and further integrate themselves with the brand.
Oct 21, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
A blind 16-year-old gets to live his dream and have a brief chance behind the wheel.
Oct 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Kurt Busch, Susie Wolff join Race of Champions lineup.
Oct 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Andretti Sports Marketing explains some of the tricks to the trade in promoting new race events, with Miami and NOLA set for 2015.
Oct 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
LA Galaxy’s Chandler Hoffman first up in “What’Cha Got” presented by Continental Tire show to drive a Lamborghini.
Video from NASCAR America
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