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?
Jul 29, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Carl Edwards, Jack Roush and crew chief Bob Osborne were severely penalized for a missing oil tank container lid after Edwards’ win at Las Vegas six years ago.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT
No. 11 crew chief Darian Grubb suspended for six races, fined $125,000; No. 11 car chief Wesley Sherrill suspended for six races; Denny Hamlin loses 75 championship points, but still in position to make the Chase.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
A look back at Ganassi’s half-decade of dominance at the old-school road course in the Ohio countryside.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: The Top 5 wins of Jeff Gordon’s career; “Scan All 43″ for the Brickyard 400; reaction to Ty Dillon’s Nationwide win at Indianapolis.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Richard Petty and David Pearson were joined on Sunday by Jeff Gordon as the only Sprint Cup drivers to win at least 90 races at NASCAR’s top level.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Between a few days in Texas and auctioning off her race worn Indianapolis 500 helmet, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Pippa Mann and the Susan G. Komen organization.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Chase-eligible teams will have to send a driver not qualified for the post-season to an Aug. 26 tire test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio this week. Here’s how telemetry readings from the track looked 20 years ago.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
After a group of laid-off employees from Caterham announced their intent to pursue legal action against the team’s new owners, Caterham has said they’ll push for a lawsuit against the ex-employees over “gross misrepresentation of the facts.”
Jul 29, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
MotorSportsTalk catches up with Milwaukee IndyFest general manager Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing for a primer on the level of IndyFest promotion you’ll see at the Wisconsin State Fair, which starts Thursday.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
It’s been a character-building season for the defending World Champions, but things are looking up for Red Bull going into the summer break.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Two charity cars and three comeback efforts highlight the Pirelli World Challenge weekend at Mid-Ohio.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
English rookie Jack Hawksworth has impressed more often than not during his first IndyCar season, and could bag his first win before the year’s out.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
Reports Tuesday indicate Bernie Ecclestone could attempt to pay his way out of his corruption case.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:49 AM EDT
Bernie Ecclestone speaks out against standing starts, and wants them gone for 2015 before they even get the chance to debut.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Roush Fenway Racing faces a period of uncertainty with its younger lineup for 2015, alongside Greg Biffle.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
There have been some massive rises and falls in the F1 points tables comparing the 2014 standings post-Hungary to the 2013 ones.
Jul 28, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Among the possible options: A new steering damper, a thumb/wrist brace adapted from motocross, and energy-absorbing material for steering wheels.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon reflects on fifth Brickyard victory; Joe Gibbs Racing starting to peak; the impact of Carl Edwards’ exit from Roush Fenway Racing.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind as the Sprint Cup Series makes its second visit to Pocono.
- Denny Hamlin’s team hit with big penalties after Brickyard infraction 0
- High 5: Chip Ganassi Racing’s win streak at Mid-Ohio (VIDEO) 0
- Chase-eligible teams – but not drivers – allowed at Homestead tire test 2
- Q&A: Kevin Healy on Milwaukee IndyFest activation heading into Wisconsin State Fair 0
- Report: Ecclestone says no to standing restarts in 2015 4