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?
Chase Elliott keeps winning, but he’s not finished capturing checkered flags this season by any stretch
Jul 22, 2014, 1:38 AM EDT
With the third win of his rookie Nationwide Series career, Chase Elliott continued to make it look easy in this past Saturday night’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Jul 21, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
For Wallace and his Truck Series rivals, racing on dirt presents a different set of challenges – and thus requires a different way to train.
Jul 21, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
In a satellite radio interview, France shared his thoughts on the consortium of NASCAR’s most powerful teams.
Jul 21, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
Jack Hawksworth will co-drive the No. 08 Prototype Challenge car for RSR Racing in Friday’s IMSA event on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Jul 21, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Between his Eldora Speedway hosting the Truck Series and then competing at Indianapolis this weekend in Sprint Cup, Stewart’s in the middle of a busy week.
Jul 21, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind for NASCAR’s visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jul 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
One last bit of fun for Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Michael Waltrip before the Sprint Cup Series returns to action at Indianapolis.
Jul 21, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Indianapolis Motor Speedway delivers a bizarre take on the classic “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” ads.
Jul 21, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s TORC: The Off-Road Championship races from Bark River, Michigan. NBCSN will air the races on Sun., Aug. 3, at 1:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…
Jul 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Chevrolet dominates the results sheet for IndyCar in Toronto.
Jul 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s Pirelli World Challenge races from the streets of Toronto. NBCSN will broadcast the Toronto races on Sunday, Aug. 10, at 1:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…
Jul 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Quartet of Hondas could have stolen the second of the Honda Indy Toronto races if not for the final red flag.
Jul 21, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Podiums and successful damage limitation pay dividends for Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves in Toronto.
Jul 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Opportunistic Mike Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing delivered on their opportunity to succeed once again in Toronto.
Jul 21, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Sebastien Bourdais is back to winning form in the Verizon IndyCar Series – and that’s a good thing for him and the series.
Jul 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Stewards deem it to be a racing incident, but Massa is less than impressed by Magnussen’s move.
Jul 21, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
German driver continues his points scoring streak on home soil.
NHRA finals at Bandimere: Robert Hight over John Force in Funny Car, J.R. Todd wins first Top Fuel race since 2008
Jul 21, 2014, 12:32 AM EDT
If you’re an NHRA Funny Car fan and weren’t able to attend in person, suffice to say it was a heck of a battle in Sunday’s finals of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver.
Todd Gilliland, 14, outdistances father David, grandfather Butch in first time they’ve all raced together
Jul 20, 2014, 10:48 PM EDT
Todd Gilliland has learned virtually everything he knows about racing from his father, Sprint Cup driver David Gilliland, and grandfather and dominating former west coast racer Butch Gilliland.
- NASCAR’s Brian France on RTA’s formation: “We didn’t think it was necessary” 6
- Eldora and Indy putting a lot on Tony Stewart’s plate 0
- Todd Gilliland, 14, outdistances father David, grandfather Butch in first time they’ve all raced together 0
- Conway bags second Toronto win thanks to pit gamble, great restart (VIDEO) 4
- German GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday 1