Why Should Dale Earnhardt Jr Retire?

retiring? Not so fast.

Retiring? Not so fast.

Lately the rumor mill has been churning regarding Dale Earnhardt Jr retiring after 2015 or 2016.

Why should Dale Earnhardt retire when he has two wins and sits third in the driver standings? Is he going to be a 7 time champion? No. There’s only one driver who has a chance at that in the current field for at least 6 years and that’s Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt has been hammered every day of his life since his Father died by those who blindly hate him for not dominating every race of every year since that tragic day. That is the real tragedy.

No one should have to be judged on the accomplishments of their Father. Were that the case, the children of every famous world leader, racing driver, astronaut and start-up king would be doomed to a life of deafening silence and reclusivism.

Earnhardt has shown that he has the ability to compete at the highest level at virtually any track he has visited.

It’s really a disturbing trend to espouse hate behind the curtain of the Internet where any fat bellied, underwear-in-the-basement loser can paint him or herself as someone they are not.

It’s a clear sign of low self-esteem, self-loathing and a drive by mentality.

Prior to the Internet those fans who have a penchant for vitriol had to sit alone with themselves because no one face to face wanted to hear that type of hate.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, practices for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 14: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, practices for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

There is a clear cut distinction between those fans who prefer one driver over another and those who pick one driver to use to vent their anger at having been a flat-liner or failure in their own lives.

Earnhardt makes a boatload of money, has a smoking hot fiance’ and he’s competing week in and week out for wins. On the other hand if it were me I might consider taking the money and his soon-to-be-wife and run. Who needs this kind of bashing?

But, so far, he hasn’t been satisfied to take the money and run. He wants to win and compete. He’s doing just that.

The current evidence dictates that he seems to have no intention of retiring just yet. He’s outperforming Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson, not to mention Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Seems like a top dog season to me. Why even think about quitting?

Should Dale Jr win the Championship, and he just might, he’s likely to go for at least two more seasons before buying his own island, or North Carolina.

Far too much money, prestige and self-esteem have been gained to quit now or in the foreseeable future.

If you absolutely hate Dale Earnhardt Jr, you might consider just how much you hate yourself.

Jimmie Johnson Is A Greedy SOB

If you aren't greedy, self centered and ruthless....you aren't a professional racing driver.

If you aren’t greedy, self centered and ruthless….you aren’t a professional racing driver.

Jimmie Johnson is one greedy SOB. He’s a professional racing driver, what else would anyone expect him to be? It’s one of the integral ingredients of being an inveterate competitor. He should be applauded, not scorned.

Jimmie Johnson is no different than an ultra successful businessman, which he is, or an Olympic competitor. He’s not going to give anything away that might intrude on his chances at winning the Sprint Cup Chase.

Would he, at some tracks, give Earnhardt a break to get as many Hendrick cars locked into the Chase as possible? Maybe. But the idea that he gave the win at Talladega to Dale Earnhardt, Jr is absurd. Maybe not to the great unwashed, but to someone who knows what to look for, it’s not probable.

Jimmie Johnson was in the same position as everyone else in the ‘Great Talladega Conga Line’ of 2015 otherwise known as a race. Calling it a race is loosely defined if you care to watch it again on your DVR.

If Johnson had been foolish enough to try and slingshot Earnhardt, he would have been hung out to dry like many others were. Sometimes you need to take the most you can get and live to fight another day. Johnson did just that, he has a win and is putting money into his insurance policy of points.

Had he dropped down, he had a rookie, Ryan Blaney, who may or may not have dropped down with him, not to mention Denny Hamlin. Take note that those cars were a Ford and Toyota respectively. His attachment to the manufacturer had to weigh in on his decision. He had no guarantee that the rookie wouldn’t crash him or drop further down with Hamlin to blow by both Johnson and Earnhardt. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.

I read with great amusement the number of fans, mostly Junior haters, who cried foul while espousing multiple conspiracy theories across Twitter and Facebook. It’s nonsense. Johnson would have taken that win if he thought he could have. No question in my mind.

Professional racing drivers are some of the most self-centered, egotistical athletes on the planet. They have to be. Johnson wouldn’t have 6 Championships if he didn’t fit directly into that mold. He may be a nice, vanilla even, type of personality for the cameras, but beneath that veneer lies the heart of a no holds barred UFC fighter. Win at all costs.

The difference is you have to pick your battles in order to win the war. Johnson and, not to forget Knaus, always seem to know what they have, what they’re capable of and then maximizing their package. It works.

The only thing on Johnson's mind is winning.

The only thing on Johnson’s mind is winning.

The Talladega race was an anomaly. It bore no resemblance to any other restrictor plate race I’ve ever seen. I, just like you, expected that with 3 laps to go multiple cars would drop down and go together to form two lines that had a head of steam. It didn’t happen. Why? I have no real answer other than everyone somehow, collectively decided that they would take what they could get without risking a huge crash.

Perhaps they felt that leaving Talladega unscathed or at least with as little points damage as possible was the best course of action. On the other hand, it may be that as a collective, at that moment when things usually heat up, everyone thought the same thing: ‘If I go for it, I’ll be thrown to the back so I’ll stay where I am. Not normal, but in that one moment, possible.

What I don’t find credible is that Johnson would pitch a win just to give it to Earnhardt.

Yes, Jimmie Johnson is one greedy SOB.

Jimmie Johnson May Be The Best NASCAR Driver In History

Johnson took his 5th win at Texas this past weekend. He may just be warming up.

Johnson took his 5th win at Texas this past weekend. He may just be warming up.

Jimmie Johnson is best NASCAR Sprint Cup driver of the modern era. He may be the best stock car racer that NASCAR has ever seen. That’s a strong statement, I know.

Johnson took everyone to school at Texas this past weekend on how a team is supposed to operate as a unit. Not a cowboy driver, not a great crew chief, not a great team alone can make this level of success happen. It’s all of these components that have to operate in complete harmony to create a team this consistently powerful. Much like that of a modern Formula One powerplant. It’s very complex.

Jimmie Johnson, with the exception of a few hiccups in strategy, driver errors and intermural conflict is the Michael Schumacher of NASCAR. Hands down. Love him or hate him you have to acknowledge that in the modern era he really has no equal.

It was obvious that Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Keselowski and others pressed hard and developed their cars over the course of the Texas race, but when crunch time came it was Johnson who closed the deal.

In the past decade Harvick hasn’t done it, Stewart hasn’t done it and neither has Earnhardt Jr. Though Junior in 2015 is giving a more than a journeyman accounting of himself.

Harvick looked as if he would rule the night, but Johnson closed the deal.

Harvick looked as if he would rule the night, but Johnson closed the deal.

Johnson is almost always calm and even when he and Knaus fight, it’s more like a strong discussion in Starbucks than an out and out verbal brawl.

I’ve always thought of him as a ‘Vanilla’ driver. Not too flashy, very smooth and doesn’t really look that fast. That’s the mark of a champion and the attitude of an above average intelligence driver.

Michael Schumacher did for Ferrari exactly what Johnson and Knaus have done for Chevrolet and for Hendrick, delivered Championships. You cannot argue with success. You can’t.

Watching Johnson seemingly struggle at times in the Texas night race you would be lulled into thinking that perhaps this dynasty was in jeopardy, but you would be wrong. We have to accept the inevitable and that is his team, with the same resources as the rest of the Hendrick organization, which really include Stewart Haas, is just a notch above the rest.

Remember, you never have to drive faster than it takes to win and you never have to lead anything but the last lap.

Will Johnson perform as well in the playoff system this year as Harvick in 2014? We’ll see when the time comes. Granted the new system has created media buzz and better racing, everyone want’s to get into the Chase. The question is what does the dog do after it catches the car?

My sense is that luck will play a part in the final chase knock outs as it did in 2014, but in the world of auto racing you set yourself up to take full advantage of that luck when the wheel spins in your favor. Johnson’s team has that ability and we’ll all just have to see if it plays out for him.

Harvick is delivering a great showing of himself s a driver, but has come nowhere close Johnson’s accomplishments in the last 10 years. He is certainly showing that he can drive, close deals for wins and has managed to operate in that window where all of the components that comprise a championship team are present.

However, he is not at at the 48 car’s level just yet. He may very well defend his title and take another championship in 2015, but then again he may not. If he does, it will be his second Sprint Cup Championship in 14 years.

If Johnson can convert the 48 car’s attributes to a championship in 2015 it will be his 7th in 15 years.

You can’t argue with those facts.


Bugs Bunny Tirade Yields Safer Vegas Barriers

Looking like the "Little Martian" Character from the Bigs Bunny Cartoons, Jeff Gordon makes his point to NASCAR

Looking like the “Little Martian” Character from the Bugs Bunny Cartoons, Jeff Gordon makes his point to NASCAR

I can’t think of many things worse than a cold and rainy Atlanta, Georgia. In the Summer, a dynamic city, but when it’s cold and as inclement as it was for last weekend’s NASCAR race, you might as well be in Juneau, Alaska. I can only imagine how tough it was being a crew member standing in the pits. Truly, it’s the pits.

Several great things came out of Atlanta. The racing was close and very active. No one was injured, although Gordon’s crash could have been much worse. Fernando Alonso’s Formula One testing accident looked relatively benign, but it wasn’t. He’ll sit out the first Grand Prix in Australia due to a concussion.

That could easily have been Gordon’s fate or much worse. Las Vegas will have more safety barriers in place as a result of Gordon’s Bugs Bunny ‘Little Martian’ tirade. Always a crowd pleaser.

The racing, for me, was better than I’ve seen in a long time from the Sprint Cup series. The cars were a handful, the drivers had to work the wheel and try to create their own strategy as the race unfolded. My hat’s off to NASCAR for these particular sets of rule changes. You won’t hear me compliment NASCAR very often.

As new as these cars were to drive at Atlanta, they at least had the benefit of a track with unusual weather induced grip, although tires were getting eaten, causing more pit stops for rubber than fuel. That shouldn’t be the case at Las Vegas.

If everyone makes it through the qualifying technical inspection in due time, though that proved to not hamper anyone at Atlanta, the drivers will face a very different set of circumstances. A hot and slippery surface that should provide a much greater challenge to their chassis setups and to the drivers as they move through the cycle of stops.

Jimmie Johnson showed his skill in Atlanta. Las Vegas should be different, as in slicker.

Jimmie Johnson showed his skill in Atlanta. Las Vegas should be different, as in slicker.

Goodyear has a selected a tire mix that hasn’t been used at Las Vegas before, so how they will react to less down-force remains to be seen in terms of degradation. It doesn’t appear as if tire wear will be the big issue this weekend, but rather who can wheel a very loose car around the desert track the best.

This compound has more grip than last years and is obviously an attempt by Goodyear to keep the cars on the track, with the heat and it’s inherent slickness, it seems Goodyear is trying to get out in front of the issue.

We all know how Johnson fared in Atlanta and going into Las Vegas as the favorite doesn’t hurt his chances, this is how he likes to drive. But it may be that we’ll see an even harder car to drive in Vegas than we did in Atlanta. One can only hope.

From the moment NASCAR introduced the Checker, AKA, the Car of Tomorrow, the talent of the driver had grown from pure hatred to a ride along of setup and grip that was the first iteration of the Gen 6. It appeared as if the COT was a challenge, but more to the drivers psyche than anything else. In other words, “Is this really the form of motorsport I chose?”.

Why it took so many years for NASCAR to develop a car that actually works is beyond me.

Many people weren’t thrilled with Johnson winning the Atlanta race, but the fact is he earned it and didn’t run away from anyone. If you aren’t in the racing business or have never driven competitively you would be lulled into thinking it was dull and that Las Vegas may be more of the same. Don’t.

When drivers tell you the track or the car has a lot of grip, it’s relative. ALL racing cars slide around, it’s trying not to slide and drift that’s the trick. A sliding race car is a slow car, however when it’s loose you can, at least, rotate into the corners.

This weekend’s Las Vegas race should be the true test of what to expect from these new rules throughout the remainder of the season and no better place than Vegas to roll the dice.




NASCAR Atlanta: The Phoenix Finally Rises From The Ashes

Retired Air Force Major Dan Rooney and young Jacob Green

Retired Air Force Major Dan Rooney and young Jacob Green

Atlanta is one of those tracks that if I never have to see the inside of the facility again as long as I live, I’ll die a happy man. It never sold out, even in the halcyon days of NASCAR and the weather was always unpredictable. It was fast, but not particularly engaging racing. This weekend was different.

This year, the weather was unpredictable and so was the racing. The Folds of Honor/Quik Trip 500 turned out to be quite the follow up to the race in Daytona. It had the distinction of having a fantastic sponsor/co-sponsor arrangement and one hell of a great spokesman in retired Air Force Major Dan Rooney. One of the best ‘Start Your Engine’ commands yet.

It’s a shame that in a country as great as America that it takes the efforts of charity to support those families who were killed in action. Frankly it’s inexcusable, but for the honor and sense of duty by warriors such as Major Rooney.

What made this Atlanta race so unusual is that it wasn’t a complete snoozer.

NASCAR seems to have moved into that realm of getting it mostly right, mostly right being the race itself. Some of the controversy’s occurred prior to the race with many cars not making it through qualifying inspection. That is not all to be laid at NASCAR’s feet despite the howling by many of the top teams who didn’t make the qualifying round.

The chain reaction crashes were more reminiscent of restrictor palate races than 1.5 mile tracks.

The chain reaction crashes were more reminiscent of restrictor palate races than 1.5 mile tracks.

The teams know what the rules are and if they can’t build the cars to make it through inspection, then the bitching should be checked at the door.

The news rules took effect at Atlanta and the played right into the hands of the usual suspects. Jimmy Johnson looks to have found the perfect combination of a loose car and the appropriate horsepower to make it interesting.

He didn’t, however, run away with the race but rather showed his actual driving prowess as did Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt was a threat all day and should quiet down some of the double wide, white lacquer furniture crowd that seems so intent on destroying all things Junior.

It was evident at the start of the race that the cars were harder to handle, particularly after the tires had a few laps on them. No one looked comfortable as the cars moved around more than Asian massage parlors in Kansas City. It was a pleasure to finally see the ability of the drivers on display.

It was an impressive run by the young driver, Brett Moffitt, subbing for Brian Vickers. The kid finished 8th at Atlanta with wicked handling Sprint Cup cars. Very impressive.

It could very well be that Atlanta Motor Speedways surface itself caused the phenomenon of having to pit for tires before fuel, as the track hasn’t been surfaced in years, but it added to the evolving dynamics of the race and the ever changing strategies that had to be employed.

It was no surprise that the last half of the race showed the most caution periods, that is, after all, the nature of Sprint Cup. What was unusual was the way those cautions came about. It was more about the cars and the drivers learning the new formula rather than the divers egregious errors. It was obvious that certain moves took air off of these cars in ways that simply sent them spinning.

It won’t take these drivers long to figure out how to use this to their advantage, another arrow in their dirty little bag of tricks quiver. From this race forward, It will all depend on the track, temperature and tire compounds.

One thing things for sure, they will have to drive these cars, no cruising.

Several of the accidents were reminiscent of plate track racing collecting cars like a Godzilla film. It was slick, hard to predict when a car was going to lose grip and took all the skills that Jimmie Johnson had to hold off Harvick and Earnhardt.

Perhaps Johnson and Knaus have figured it out and are “Back” and perhaps not. One thing is for certain, it was a better show than Atlanta’s seen since Carl Edwards took his first Cup series win in 2005.


At Texas, Johnson Returned To Familiar Form

Jimmie Johnson won at Texas to earn his first victory in the Chase, his third straight in a Texas fall race and the 70th of his career.

Jimmie Johnson won at Texas to earn his first victory in the Chase, his third straight in a Texas fall race and the 70th of his career.

Given that there was a great deal of attention paid to the Jeff Gordon-Brad Keselowski fracas after the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, some folks might have overlooked the fact that Jimmie Johnson won the race.

Let’s face it, Gordon and Keselowski got a lot more ink than Johnson.

But it should be noted that Johnson’s victory was significant for a few reasons: It was his third consecutive win in the fall Texas race. It was his first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and it was the 70th of his career.

He’s eighth on NACAR’s all-time list.

As mentioned, Johnson won in the Chase for the first time, as hard as that might be to believe. Truth is he was mediocre in NASCAR’s “playoff,” and that’s the reason he was eliminated from championship contention after the second round.

Before Texas, Johnson’s best Chase finish was third at Dover, the second of the three opening races.

At Kansas, the opening race of the second round, Johnson finished 40th after being involved in a multicar accident.

He was 12th in points and on the bubble. He almost had to win to advance.

He didn’t come close. He was 17th at Charlotte – where he normally runs very strong – and 24th at Talladega, after which he stood 10th in points and out of contention.

Johnson’s struggles led to speculation that he was at odds with long-time crew chief Chad Knaus, acknowledged as one of the best in the business.

To some, tense radio transmissions between the two at Charlotte offered evidence things were not going smoothly.

Once out of championship contention, the only thing left for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team to do was to perhaps prepare for 2015 – and to definitely win as many races as possible.

Victory seemed as distant as ever after Johnson finished 32nd at Martinsville, but it was at Texas that everything was set right.

Johnson returned to dominating form at Texas. He led 191 of 341 laps en route to his fourth victory of the season.

Johnson returned to dominating form at Texas. He led 191 of 341 laps en route to his fourth victory of the season.

Johnson looked like the six-time champion he is. He led 191 of 341 laps, the most he’s led since his victory at Dover in June.

He survived two green-white-checkered restarts, pulling away from Keselowski and runnerup Kevin Harvick on the last one.

Now, for Johnson, this was more like it.“We wanted to close out the year by having fun, and winning races helps you do that,” Johnson said. “But I have to give a lot of credit to our test session in Homestead earlier this week. 

We went down there and Chad and the guys started making me happy.  I guess I’ve been unhappy for a while. 

“These guys put some great speed in the race car, got me really comfortable with the car. 

We were able to bring a lot of that here and get the car off the truck right away, it was quick, qualified third, and then dominated and won the race.”

Johnson acknowledged he would like to be in the hunt for the championship.

But he said that to be able to run as well as he did at Texas takes away some of the sting.He also emphasized that his relationship with Knaus is as it always was.“It’s tough when you’re going through watching, you know, a championship opportunity slip away from you,” Johnson said. “People ask me questions about us raising hell with one another on the radio.  But that’s part of the process.  “That’s one thing that has been good about us. 

We’ve always been able to be honest with one another and say tough things. 

“Sure, you might not want to hear it, it might sting a little bit.  But it’s what has kept us together for all these years and provided the 70 wins and six championships.”

Knaus said that not winning created a lack of confidence for him and Johnson, a situation that has been removed with victory.

“It was difficult,” he said. “My confidence was definitely low.  I know Jimmie’s was definitely low. 

“You know, look, winning cures a lot of things, but the proof is in how we react beyond this point, how we go to Phoenix, how we produce there, how we go to Homestead, how we race there.  “Those will be the true tales of where we’re at.”






Talladega: Every Lap Could Be Heaven Or Hell

It may be hard to believe, but three Cup Champions are on the bubble for elimination for the Championship under the new NASCAR rules at Talladega this weekend.

It may be hard to believe, but three Cup Champions are on the bubble for elimination for the Championship under the new NASCAR rules at Talladega this weekend.

By virtue of the storied Alabama mega-track´s existence as the sole restrictor plate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Talladega’s fall date has been circled twice on many fans and teams calendars this year-and for good reason. Talladega is, after all, a track where fortune and dismal fate consistently collide with regularity at over 200 miles per hour, taking hopes and dreams of glory and leaving twisted sheet metal and bent emotions. After last weekend’s shenanigans following the closing laps of Charlotte, the inherent drama Talladega provides will only be exponentially multiplied. Heaven or Hell.

Adding to the normal blood pressure spike, four drivers are going to be eliminated from Championship contention following the 500 miler this weekend and, absent a miracle, those four are Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. It almost seems heretical.

In a way, racing at Talladega has always been a race of nail biting decisions. Talladega’s wide racing surface makes handling and tire wear less an issue than at the high banks of Daytona and the use of horsepower-robbing restrictor plates virtually levels the field putting the race in the drivers’ hands. Or their minds.

Glorious victory or smoky demise depends on making the correct decisions at the correct time. Imagine a 200 mile an hour chess match against 42 other hungry opponents with the same goal: Victory Lane. Chase or not.

The "Big One" always looms, but it´s almost a guarantee this year at Talladega.

The “Big One” always looms, but it´s almost a guarantee this year at Talladega.

The first, and truly only, decision a driver can make before strapping into the race-car is strategy during the first half to 3/4 of the race. More specifically, the car must have some vital components intact to complete the event, so keeping the fenders intact and the toe (alignment) correct means avoiding the big one (unlike years past, the question now isn’t ‘when’ the big one occurs, but ‘how soon’). So the possibility of some teams ‘laying back’ towards the rear of the field is a distinct possibility, although a strategy that will be employed by very few, if at all.

In fact, the savvy and experienced drivers who can and need to win at Talladega know that most wrecks occur in the middle of the field, and will attempt to stay up front for the duration of the race.

Racing up front means clean air and fewer obstacles, so a vital decision is choosing who your dance partner is going to be. Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. have proven to work well together at this track, and both have the same amount to gain or lose, so they will no doubt find each other early and attempt to stay together towards the front. They will both be early and strong contenders for this event, and they are two of the most capable and experienced drivers at this monster track.

Another pair of drivers whose decisions could impact the Chase field on every lap of this event, are Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, both of whom are locked into the Eliminator round of the Chase by way of victory in the Contender round. Much like the popular girls at a middle school dance, they are being and will be courted frequently by the rest of the Chase field.

"Roller Girl"

“Roller Girl”

Case in point: Logano may be Keselowski’s sole hope to consistently run up front, as Brad may find trouble keeping a partner with him to maneuver through the field after last week´s dust-up. The 22 doesn’t have to win, he just has to start to advance, so they will almost surely team up and stick together through the entirety of the event. Roger Penske, legendary team owner, might have “suggested” that already.

Harvick has the luxury of going with who he chooses and when he chooses. Harvick´s #4 has arguably been the best team week in and week out this season, and “Happy” has both the equipment and experience to find himself with more suitors than he can please. More like “Boogie Nights” than “Talladega Nights”. Whatever decisions these two drivers make have Chase implications on every level, on every lap.

However, just because the bottom four are carrying the most pressure heading into the Geico 500, that doesn’t mean that rest of the Chase field shouldn’t be concerned. Jeff Gordon has competed in, and won, many of these restrictor plate races. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch know what it takes to get it done, as well. Those drivers, along with Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman know that each lap, each decision they make – and when they make them — could keep them in the Chase for the next 3 races, or suddenly place them on the outside looking in.

Think about, for a moment, the Talladega races we had in NASCAR before the Chase, where even a casual fan could tune into the race and know within a half a lap of watching how early or late in the race was. What fan, and even TV announcer has watched a particularly daring move and not said ‘No,no,no, that was way too soon’!!

Those days are long past. With every position important, every lap, the type of racing that was saved for the final laps of the race will now be the standard. The trick is to be aggressive, but not aggressively stupid. A fine line, which many drivers will either ignore or completely forget.

Decide well, and be rewarded.

Decide poorly, and Talladega will allow someone else to make the decision for you.



Despite Chase Start, It’s Too Early To Count Johnson Out

Jimmie Johnson hasn't had a particularly good start in the Chase, but he's fourth in points and eight races remain.

Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had a particularly good start in the Chase, but he’s fourth in points and eight races remain.

After only a couple of races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup the notion has arisen that defending champion Jimmie Johnson has, so far, been anything but a championship contender.

This would normally be only conjecture – not to mention a surprise. After all Johnson is the defending champ. He’s won six career titles including five in a row from 2005-2010.

He’s second in career championships only to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who have seven each.

But the facts are these: Yes, Johnson has three wins this season. He’s won at Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – a clear indication he got hotter as the weather warmed up.

At the 26th race of the season, at Richmond before the Chase began, Johnson finished eighth and moved into fourth place in the Chase after re-seeding. He was one of four drivers to win three races.

So far, so good – I mean, nothing much different there for the veteran title contender.

But Johnson started sluggish out of the Chase. He finished 12th at Chicagoland, which isn’t all that bad of itself, but when compared to No. 1 seed Brad Keselowski, who won and earned his way into the second round of eliminations, well, it wasn’t all that good.

Johnson won three races earlier this year to easily make the Chase field of 16. One of his victories came at Michigan in June.

Johnson won three races earlier this year to easily make the Chase field of 16. One of his victories came at Michigan in June.

Johnson came back strong with a fifth-place finish at Loudon, but, again, it was Team Penske that held sway as Joey Logano won the race.

As it now stands Johnson is fourth in points behind Keselowski and Logano, the Penske drivers in first and second place, and the steady Kevin Harvick.

Let’s be honest. It doesn’t really matter that Johnson compiled four straight top-10 finishes before the Chase began or that he tripped a bit when it started.

It really doesn’t matter that he returned to form with a top-five at Loudon.

We’re talking about Johnson. We’re talking about a guy who is expected to contend for a championship. After all, given his record, could we anticipate anything else?

That he has not roared to the top of the point standings with at least one victory in hand seems something of an anomaly.

Johnson understands this scenario. He’s been there. And he knows that it will take a change in performance to establish what is expected of him and his team.

“To be honest about it, we hold ourselves to a higher level and expect to operate at a higher level,” he said. “But it’s the same that we’ve probably had through the majority of the year, where we’ve been good. We had a small window of being great.

“But in any competitive sport, if you’re not great, it’s hard to have a ray of sunshine shining through in certain areas. So we’re realists.

“As the No. 48 and in the culture of Hendrick Motorsports, we expect a lot out of ourselves, let alone what any outside pressure would be. And we’re not where we want to be.”

For the moment being not where he wants to be means that Johnson wants to attempt to drop no lower than fourth in points and, of course, rise from there with continued improved performance and even victories.

“I’m trying to get my head around how do I drive a tighter race car?” Johnson said. “And then, how do we get speed? We had it right for three races this year, so it’s in there.

“But, you all see how close the times are in practice and qualifying in the race. You’re not looking for a ton, just a half a tenth to a tenth will completely turn things around.

“So, we’re looking for just that little sliver of speed to get back to a dominant position.”

Truth be told, Johnson can do it.

Last year he won two races in the Chase. He won four in 2009, the season of his fourth title. He won three in 2008 and a remarkable four in a row in 2007.

So, with eight races remaining in the Chase how can we honestly say he won’t go on a similar hot streak that brings him another title – even though the odds seem to be against him?

“Believe me, we’re working our guts out to find the speed and to be that dominant car,” Johnson said. “But, truthfully, we’re not the dominant car right now. We’re a good car.

“We still have eight weeks to get our act together. If we continue to get the most out of our good car and have a great car at Homestead, if we’re in that position, then we can get a seventh championship.”






It Took 12 Races, But Johnson’s Team Found What Was Needed

Jimmie Johnson got off to a slow start in 2014, but that has changed with two straight wins. Much of the credit is given to crew chief Chad Knaus and team.

Jimmie Johnson got off to a slow start in 2014, but that has changed with two straight wins. Much of the credit is given to crew chief Chad Knaus and team.

After suffering through the first 12 races of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, during which he didn’t win a race, Jimmie Johnson rebounded nicely with two victories in successive weeks.

That effectively ended the widespread speculation that something was wrong with Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports team, or both.

There’s a reason why Johnson was in something of a funk through the first dozen races of the season.

There’s also a reason why he broke out of it so spectacularly.

Johnson will tell you there was never a thing wrong with him. It was with his Chevrolet – or more specifically, how he was unable to get comfortable with it and produce more much-needed speed.

“Those are two completely different things,” Johnson said.

So the cure for what ailed Johnson and his team had to be found within the car.

Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, explained that the problems began as early as last season.

“What happens, and I’ve said this before, when you are fortunate enough to battle for a championship, your main focus goes solely on trying to win a championship,” he said. “So as we were going through and pursued the 2013 season championship, we lost focus on 2014. 

“But that’s just inherent.  That’s what happens because you have to focus on the goal that’s directly in front of you.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Portraits

Together, Johnson and Knaus have won six championships. They hope to earn a seventh, but Knaus says there are still some improvements to make.

So when the 2014 season began, Johnson’s team found itself a bit behind in preparation. That can cause immediate problems, especially when dealing with what is effectively a “new” car.

“With the new ride height changes and rules that they’ve got out there, the car is a different animal,” Knaus said. “I know it’s difficult to understand and it’s not easy for everybody to understand, but it does change the way you approach a race car. 

“The advantages that we had last year were minimized with these new rules, so we had to try to find some new advantages and new ways to get the car set up to where Jimmie is happy with it.”

Searching for new advantages was what the Hendrick team was doing through the first 12 weeks of racing.

Performance-wise, Johnson was far from spectacular. He did finish second at Martinsville – and six more times among the top 10 – but he also had very uncharacteristic finishes of 19th, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 32nd. He was seventh in points coming into Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600.

In that event everything changed. Johnson won the pole and the race. Before the green flag dropped, he was the hands-down favorite

“Actually going into the 600 I told Jimmie we were taking his favorite car to the track for the race,” Knaus said. “And I told him that his new favorite car was going to be going to Dover the following week.

“And then I told him his next favorite car was going to be going to Indianapolis.  So far I’m doing pretty good, and hopefully we can keep it true.”

Obviously promising Johnson his “favorite” race car was not enough to turn things around. Knaus won’t say specifically what did it, but he acknowledges the work that went into it.

“The one thing I’m really impressed with at Hendrick Motorsports is when we do get behind, which we feel like we’ve been just a pinch behind this year, everybody digs down really, really deep and they work hard,” he said. “From the pit crew, from the guys that hang the bodies to the guys that build the chassis to the guys that build the engines – they try to find an advantage.”

Johnson won at Dover for the ninth time in his career, which makes him the track’s all-time winner. He has led more than 50 percent of the laps he’s run at the one-mile track, including the 272 he led in the FedEx 400 last weekend.

Knaus admits Charlotte and Dover are two of Johnson’s favorite tracks and that he’s always expected to do well on both of them.

“We came to Dover with high expectations, obviously, after winning the 600,” Knaus said. “We came here with a brand new race car and things went really well for us straight out of the gate.

“But I feel like we’ve still got to room to grow.  I’m looking forward to the next series of race cars that we build at Hendrick Motorsports.  I’m excited about that. 

“We’re close. We had good race cars at Charlotte and Dover. But it needs to be a bit better. 

“So I think if we can start digging in a little bit deeper we’ll finally have what we want when we get to about September time.”

Which does not bode well for the competition.






Johnson Wants To Win All-Star For More Than One Reason

Jimmie Johnson has won the Sprint All-Star Race in each of the last two seasons and will be seeking his third straight victory this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson has won the Sprint All-Star Race in each of the last two seasons and will be seeking his third straight victory this weekend.

The Sprint All-Star race is not like any other –which goes without saying – and, I think, is one of the most highly anticipated NASCAR events of the year.

That’s because it is designed to challenge the drivers and teams. Its ultimate goal is to make competitors do things on the track they normally would not.

And why would they do that? Well, there’s the prestige earned with victory, of course. But there’s also money – and a lot of it. The winner gets a cool $1 million.

But to the competitors the event is also fun and free of a fair amount of stress. It isn’t a point race so it won’t have any effect of the standings.

That has a way of putting a driver – and his crew chief – at ease.

And it’s at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which means the majority of competitors can be with family and friends. They can also sleep in their own beds.

If all this sounds like a marketing pitch for the Sprint All-Star race, yes, in a way it is.

But it’s all the truth. No need to gloss over anything.

Don’t take my word for it.

“Charlotte had never been a track that we’d run very well at, up until 2006,” said Kevin Harvick, a two-time winner this year who won the All-Star Race in 2007. “So, to go and win the race gave us a lot of confidence, for sure.

“Obviously, a win in the All-Star Race makes you $1 million richer and puts you on a unique list of winners that have won that race before.

“So, it definitely makes you want to experience all of that again as we go back every year.”

Fellow Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson has won the All-Star Race four times, including twice consecutively in 2012-13. He’ll be the prohibitive favorite to win this weekend and earn his record fifth victory.

Sprint All-Star Race

Johnson won the All-Star Race in 2012 and hopes a win this year will provide his team with confidence and momentum.

His view of the All-Star Race fits perfectly with the hype.

“It’s usually such a fun weekend for us,” Johnson said. “There are always a lot of family and friends in town for the race and there is a lot of money on the line. We just go out there to try and win it.”

While it’s true the All-Star Race doesn’t pay off in points, I would think that matters little to Johnson.

He’d like to win for the record and the money, naturally, but I also believe he’d like to gain some momentum.

Johnson has not won a race this year. He has six top-10 finishes in 11 races, including a second at Martinsville and a third at Darlington.

But to assure himself a position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Johnson has to win. A victory in the All-Star Race won’t help his cause, but I think, it will boost his team’s confidence and provide it with a momentum jolt.

And that is important.

“Yeah, for sure it is,” Johnson said. “That’s the one thing that I learned maybe year two or three in Cup, is that every weekend’s a new weekend. It’s a new track.  

“The momentum that you do carry is, I think, noticeable maybe on Friday, opening practice, qualifying.

“By the time you get to the race, you’re dealing with that weekend’s circumstances.  Just because you won the previous race, doesn’t change things on that given race day.

“Believe me, it’s a nice week.” 

And that means that, going into the Coca-Cola 600, Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team are going to feel at the top of their game if they win the All-Star Race.

By no means is that a certainty. But Johnson feels confident. And, given his record in the race, for good reason.

“The race definitely changes things,” Johnson said. “I think people are willing to take more risks and opportunities if they’re there. I think second place, if he’s in reaching distance of the leader, will certainly do what he can for $1 million and no implications in points.

“Why are you going to risk making the guy in fourth mad?  He’s going to come after you the following week. Given the race format, I think it certainly can make things exciting.

“But Charlotte has been so good to us.  Even though our dominance was a while ago, we’ve been able to win the All‑Star a few times since.  

“We’ve definitely been in the money and have had a shot to win.  

I’m carrying good confidence in there.”





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