Jun 16, 2014, 12:24 PM EST
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?
Nov 28, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Alonso proved once again in 2014 that he has ability exceeding that of the Ferrari car, but even he couldn’t make up for the shortcomings of the F14 T.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:11 PM EST
Spanish driver to race alongside Max Verstappen in 2015, stepping up to make his F1 debut.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Red Bull may have been underdogs after winter testing, but few could have predicted Sebastian Vettel’s bid for a fifth world title being as weak as it was.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
After a difficult rookie season, Bottas’ sophomore year in F1 brought far more success, marking the Finn as a possible champion in the future.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Kvyat will replace Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull next year.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Nico Hulkenberg and Porsche: a win for both the WEC and F1 in a rare moment of motorsport unity for the common good.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
What a year it was for Daniel Ricciardo in his first season at Red Bull.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Talks about a new contract with Mercedes should be brought forwards after title win.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
A worthy title contender, Nico Rosberg enjoyed his most successful season to date in 2014.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
2014 saw the Briton become a two-time F1 world champion, winning 11 races.
Nov 28, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
A new regime will come into force at Maranello next season following a disappointing campaign in 2014.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
British racer will remain with Williams for 2015 after becoming the first woman to take part in a grand prix weekend session in 22 years over the summer.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:46 PM EST
NHRA team owner Don Schumacher underwent surgery Wednesday for early-stage skin cancer.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:04 PM EST
NASCAR star Kyle Busch and wife Samantha dropped a very big hint that their first child may be a boy.
Nov 27, 2014, 7:28 PM EST
IndyCar driver Graham Rahal and NHRA driver Courtney Force announced their engagement Thursday in Venice, Italy.
Nov 27, 2014, 5:57 PM EST
Police continue to investigate the cause of death of Theresa Benn, who had been missing more than a month before her body was found last week near Talladega Superspeedway.
MST exclusive: BK Racing co-owner Anthony Marlowe apologizes for Cole Whitt/David Ragan tweet controversy
Nov 27, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
BK Racing minority owner Anthony Marlowe offers a public apology to MotorSportsTalk on his inadvertent tweet of Cole Whitt replacing David Ragan in the No. 34 car for 2015.
Nov 27, 2014, 2:16 PM EST
Steve Byrnes of Fox Sports gave friends and family a promising Thanksgiving update about his battle with Stage 4 head-and-neck cancer.
Nov 27, 2014, 10:45 AM EST
Hulkenberg gets an LMP1 opportunity with Porsche at Spa and Le Mans next season.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
What we’re thankful across the wide spectrum of motorsports in 2014.
Video from NASCAR America
- Toro Rosso confirms Carlos Sainz Jr. for 2015 F1 season 1
- F1 2014 Driver Review: Lewis Hamilton 0
- IndyCar’s Graham Rahal, NHRA’s Courtney Force engaged 11
- Police seek cause of death of race fan found near Talladega 0
- MST exclusive: BK Racing co-owner Anthony Marlowe apologizes for Cole Whitt/David Ragan tweet controversy 0
- What we’re thankful for in the motorsports world, 2014 2
- Sam Hornish Jr. has much to be thankful for: new home, renewed Sprint Cup hopes with Richard Petty Motorsports 5