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?
Jun 29, 2015, 5:47 PM EDT
Finishing 13th in her Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Pippa Mann enjoyed the best showing of her IndyCar career in Saturday’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.
Jun 29, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
Jack Hawksworth enjoyed one of his better runs of 2015 in Saturday’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.
Jun 29, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
Although it’s been two days since the MAV TV 500, a number of IndyCar drivers are not going to soon forget one of the wildest races the series has seen in a long time.
Jun 28, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Brazilian driver ends the Formula E season with his best finish of fourth.
Jun 28, 2015, 5:33 PM EDT
Westbrook and Valiante take their second win of the year at Watkins Glen.
Jun 28, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
The IndyCar driver finished 11th and 12th in two races at the London ePrix this weekend.
Jun 28, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
Graham Rahal back on Twitter on Sunday after win on Saturday.
Jun 28, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Brazilian driver remains upbeat despite losing out on the title to bitter rival Nelson Piquet Jr.
Jun 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Brazilian driver talks about his rise from the midfield to the title across the course of the inaugural Formula E season.
Jun 28, 2015, 1:36 PM EDT
Watch a replay of yesterday’s crazy MAVTV 500 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana either online via NBC Sports Live Extra, or on NBCSN tonight.
Jun 28, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Can the Lotus driver pick up some points for the third straight weekend at the British Grand Prix?
Jun 28, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT
The first ever Formula E championship goes right down to the wire in London, but it is Piquet who is crowned champion.
Jun 28, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
2013 GP2 Series champion set for practice run-out at Silverstone as part of his reserve role with the team.
Jun 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Rossi extends his lead at the top of the MotoGP championship standings with Dutch TT victory.
Jun 28, 2015, 8:03 AM EDT
Wet qualifying shakes up the grid ahead of the season finale on Sunday afternoon in London.
Jun 28, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT
MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno reflects on one of IndyCar’s most dramatic days in recent memory.
Jun 27, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT
Andretti drives well and ends P3, to make a rare famous last name reunion happen on podium.
Jun 27, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT
It was 150 years ago that author Horace Greeley wrote those famous words, “Go West, Young Man,” and IndyCar driver Sage Karam put that advice to good use in Saturday’s MAV TV 500.
Jun 27, 2015, 9:28 PM EDT
Briscoe and SPM make the best of the situation after late-race IndyCar accident.
Jun 27, 2015, 9:21 PM EDT
With Will Power involved in a late-race wreck in Saturday’s MAV TV 500, Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth to extend his points lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
- Pippa Mann revels in career-best IndyCar finish at Fontana 0
- After tough recent outings, Jack Hawksworth relishes 10th-place showing at Fontana 0
- MAVTV 500: Despite being nerve-racking to crazy, drivers glad safety won out 1
- WATCH: IndyCar’s frantic, thrilling MAVTV 500 to re-air at midnight ET on NBCSN 3
- Nelson Piquet Jr crowned first ever FIA Formula E champion in thrilling London finale 1
- Sarrazin takes surprise pole in wet London ePrix qualifying 3
- DiZinno: IndyCar’s Double-Edged Sword in Fontana 19