Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday October 21, 2008
To hear many pundits in the media lately, the sky is falling; it is quite possibly the end of the world as foretold in the Book of Revelations or Nostradamus. There is no pulling back from the precipice, and everyone is doomed to accept the fate that becomes them.
No, I am not talking about the economy or the upcoming election. I am referring to Jimmie Johnson’s third consecutive Sprint Cup championship being anything but a foregone conclusion at this point.
There are few certainties in life: Death, taxes and Johnson’s performance in the last 10 races of the season. Each year, the title fight tightens over NASCAR’s final two months, and each time, the No. 48 team pops up no matter how many times others try to pound on them, like some sort of possessed Whack-A-Mole.
Dating back to when he joined the series in his rookie season of 2002, Johnson and the No. 48 team have been in the thick of the title fight each and every year. Of Johnson’s 39 career wins to date, 15 have come in the last 10 races of the year. Even more telling for the stat-geek in all of us, along with those 10 wins have come an equally impressive and morale crushing 10 second-place finishes — and five third-place runs to boot. Sure, the Chase format has only been used since 2004 — in a year and a format that saw Johnson miss the championship by a scant eight points to Kurt Busch — but it illustrates for everyone the simple fact that when it comes down to crunch time, betting against the No. 48 team is akin to putting all your chips into AIG’s basket.
What is truly remarkable is just how consistent this team has been since its inception. At first, it was regarded as just another Hendrick Motorsports outfit to support the No. 24 team. In 2001, Jeff Gordon was heading towards his fourth series championship when it was announced he was going to be co-owning Rick Hendrick’s new fourth car. The driver for Gordon’s new operation? Then-Busch Grand National Series driver Jimmie Johnson. A relative unknown to many, Johnson’s team was not really lighting up the junior series, though a win in 2001 and an eighth-place points finish was actually quite impressive for the small Herzog Motorsports operation.
The driver who was more familiar to those who follow desert racing or ASA was just about to get his feet wet with a few starts in the Cup Series before going full-time the following season. Johnson’s starts were inauspicious enough, with a 25th-place finish at Homestead being his best showing. His first full season behind the wheel, however, was beyond impressive.
In 2002, Johnson won in only his 13th career start in the 10th race of the season at California. It would take just three more races for him to win again at Dover. Going into the final stretch of his rookie season, he actually was leading the points with seven races remaining. At Talladega, the field was set by points due to a rainout, and under the opening parade laps, outside polesitter Mark Martin had his steering lock up and plowed into the side of Johnson, driving them both into the infield grass. Martin’s intermittent steering left Johnson with a wrinkled fender; however, a sour engine sometime later sealed his fate with a 37th place finish. Johnson would close the gap to 82 points between he and eventual champion Tony Stewart with four races remaining, but a few poor runs (including spinning himself out at Atlanta while in contention) relegated him to a fifth place points finish.
What might be lost in all of this, and what cannot be stressed enough, was this was Johnson’s first year in the series under a points format that many consider to be “the” defining mark of a NASCAR champion. Six years later, the same driver and crew chief are preparing to match the mark that was set by Cale Yarborough, with crew chief Herb Nab and owner Junior Johnson during the 1976-78 seasons. This is a feat that has never been matched by a driver since, though Darrell Waltrip came close in 1983 (47 points), Dale Earnhardt in 1995 (34) and Jeff Gordon in 1996 (37).
Say what you will about the current competition today, but Yarborough’s work was done against the likes of Richard Petty, Waltrip, and Bobby Allison. You’re looking at over 400 career wins and 14 championships among those drivers. That’s not including David Pearson — who at the time was running a partial schedule — so throw in another 105 wins and three titles with the Silver Fox while you’re at it.
All of this leads me to this central question: Is it time to consider Jimmie Johnson among those names — in the same breath as some of the greatest drivers of any generation? To quote Sly when Mickey shows up to his house late one night in Rocky II: “Absolutely.”
In seven years, Johnson has amassed 39 wins; to date, he is averaging over six wins a season. At only 32 years, he has (by today’s standards) realistically about a decade of competitiveness left at this level. Johnson keeps himself in shape, hasn’t suffered a significant injury (short of falling off the roof of a golf cart he was surfing on), and now has the privilege of driving in the safest cars and on the safest tracks the sport has ever known. At the going rate, Johnson would eclipse David Pearson’s 105 wins towards the end of those 10 years. Junior Johnson once said a driver is in his prime once he reaches his mid-to-late 30s. If Johnson still has a few years to go until he fully matures as a driver, that’s a scary thought.
Also helping Johnson’s cause is the car he is driving. Hendrick Motorsports is nothing short of a dynasty and is unapologetic about it. Their dominance had been challenged in recent years by the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, but since 2006, it has firmly reestablished its claim as the team to beat in NASCAR’s top division. This level of competition at HMS causes all of its teams to rise to the occasion; what better way to motivate than to beat the car in the stall next to you? It is reminiscent of Roush’s performance from 2002-05, when all of its teams were winning and seen as legitimate title contenders. While Kyle Busch has done the lion’s share of winning at Joe Gibbs Racing for Toyota this year, some of Johnson’s closest competition has come from within in teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Driving a Hendrick car does not always guarantee success, though: just ask Casey Mears or Brian Vickers. The devil is in the details in today’s era of competition, and the perpetration of the No. 48 cars by the team led by Chad Knaus is the benchmark by which all others are measured. It is no coincidence that Knaus graduated Magna Cum Laude from Evernham University, as the dominance of the No. 48 team is reminiscent of the No. 24 car during the 1990s. If anything, it is even more impressive in the light of increased competition and parity, coupled with ever-tightening rules and regulations brought about by the transition to a new race car in the CoT.
Johnson has grown as a driver the last few years. He was once seen as more of a liability than an asset in restrictor plate races — one who would seemingly spin by himself running the outside line in the middle of a pack of cars. Now, he’s a two-time winner with a Daytona 500 trophy to his name. Johnson still has yet to win on a road course; his most memorable road race moment was when he stuffed his Busch ride into the Styrofoam blocks, tires, and blue Armco barrier head-on after jumping the sand trap when his brakes failed while doing 140 mph at Watkins Glen in 2000. He celebrated skirting death that day by standing triumphantly on the roof of his car.
But other than that, the record is nothing less than stellar at this point in Johnson’s career. He does have a few more milestones to reach before he retires, to be sure, but as Johnson stands a month away from his third consecutive title, is it not too much to ask that he be mentioned among some of the best in the history of the sport?
There are two races this year that sealed the deal for me, as far as picking Johnson to win the title as well as being mentioned among the best the sport has ever known. The first was at Phoenix in April. Johnson ran well and led the better part of the first half of the race. But by the second half, he was a distant third to Earnhardt, Jr., and future teammate Mark Martin. Everyone had to pit to make it to the end on fuel, and even the Lowe’s machine was choking on vapors. However, Knaus ordered Johnson to stay out after all others had pitted, then had him back it down to near pace car speed to conserve just enough fuel to coast around to a seven-second win.
The second race was this weekend at Martinsville. It is rare that with the number of strategies employed at a short track race and the number of variables that occur with beatin,’ bangin’, and brakin’ for one driver to lead over two-thirds of an event, and Johnson did just that, the only mark on his car coming from getting a little too close to the wall when receiving his checkered flag from the flagman.
Now, Johnson’s third title is not in the bag by any means; a blown motor, tire, or errant move by another driver could easily knock Johnson out of a race, relegating him to a poor finish that coughs up over 100 points. However, for that to mean anything, Biffle, Burton or Edwards would need to still be virtually perfect from here on out. Neither of those drivers – nor their teams – have shown that to be a possibility this year. Of course, anything can happen in racing, and it usually does. Having said that, Jimmie Johnson happens a lot too. He’s got six wins so far, and with four races to go, he’s 149 points ahead of Biffle, 152 in front of Burton, and a whopping 198 atop Edwards.
With that, Johnson’s a safe bet to win his third title in as many years, putting him in the same sentence as Pearson, Yarborough, Waltrip, Allison, and the one who helped get him here — Jeff Gordon.
©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Give me a break! Jimmie Johnson is nothing compared to the likes of David Pearson and Cale Yarborough. With the most dishonest crew chief and a felon car owner, Johnson is a disgrace to NASCAR. He should never have been given the 2006 title given that his car was found to be illegal after qualifying at the Daytona 500. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, Casey Mears won that race, not Johnson. Same with the 07 title. When Knaus got the boot at Sonoma, Johnson shoiuld have been disqualified from the title! But Ol’ Felon Rick has such a good “in” with France and Helton, Jimmie has been assured of his third title. Sorry, but I’m not buying this garbage. “Vanilla Jimmie” is all you need to look at to know that NASCAR is nothing but a complete joke, and the biggest suckers are the fans who buy into their hokie show. And yes, I can’t stand Jimmie or that sleeze-bag crew chief of his. Jeff Burton and even Greg Biffle would make a far more ethical champion than the guy who’s going to take it again this year.
If ever there was a contrast between the great drivers and the lucky drivers this is it .
Racing in the modern era is a team sport. I think it’s unfair to compare drivers across eras, because the sport has changed so much, you can’t say that in a different era, Jimmie Jounson would not have bulldogged for wins with the best of them, and you can’t say that the great drivers from bygone days wouldn’t ahve milked today’s system to win championships. The cars handle differently, pit work and strategy is much more crucial to success than it was a half-century ago. Driving skills have evolved. It’s an unfair comparison to say Johnson isn’t as good because his team is more important-that’s the nature of NASCAR today.
Also, and I blame the TV broadcast booth for this one, the quote people use from Talladega got used so far out of context that if you weren’t listening to team communications on the scanner, you got a convoluted story. Jimmie was not content to ride ninth in that race-he simply didn’t have a good enough car in the draft to contend for the win, and he knew it, so he chose to work where he was in the draft rather than to try to make a move and cause a wreck. That’s responsible racing, not only for his own team, but for theose around him. If you don’t have the car, you don’t have the car. It’s a shame TV didn’t see fit to play the entire conversation, not just the snippet thay used.
Ken, if you truly believe that David Pearson and Cale Yarborough won every one of their races and championships without a little help from the gray areas, then you are truly naive.
True, Rick Hendrick paid extra to get sufficient stock for his Honda dealership, but what some call a “felony” I call free enterprise. Get over it. The Feds have. Besides, even Junior Johnson was a felon. That makes Hendrick more old school than any other owner, save Gene Haas, out there.
Michael. The competition was stronger? You mean the competition that was made up of a handful of circuit regulars and the rest of the field filled with regional and local drivers. That’s the stronger competition? You might want to rethink that since even David Pearson has said otherwise.
Besides, driving ability only comes into play at road courses where they actually have to drive.
You all might want to try thinking before you hit that submit button at the bottom of this thing.
As long as everybody is throwing around the felon card….
I find it kind of funny that both car owners here who have/will win three consecutive titles – Junior Johnson and Rick Hendrick….both received Presidential Pardons for their felonies.
Johnson was pardoned by Ronald Reagan, Hendrick by Bill Clinton.
Who says NASCAR isn’t diverse?!
Yes, the competition was much “ stronger” . And the reason should be “obvious” . David Pearson was competing against all of the other greats every week . Petty , Yarborough , Earnhardt , Allison , they were all in the same race . Driving skills ? The cars of the sixties and seventies required tremendous skills on every type of track . They didn’t have brake recirculators for Martinsville . They just had to conserve brakes any way they could . Many drivers didn’t even have cool suits . Skinny , rock hard tires , many early cars didn’t have power steering . Almost stock seats with no side support . Very basic suspension geometry . Not to mention the fact that the track surfaces were not so great in those days . Actually, it really is easy to make comparisons between the drivers of today and the drivers of the past . Richard , Cale , Dale , David Bobby ,and the others were true race drivers . They had virtually no technology , just driving ability and desire .
Michael, putting Earnhardt with Pearson, Petty and Allison is like putting Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon with Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip. Sure, they were on the same track, but they were not at the same quality point in their careers.
Power steering? Cool suits? None of those guys, save Earnhardt, were competitive when those became the norm. And since they didn’t have power steering, they never had to deal with trying to wheel that car around with a bad pump. I take it you’ve never driven a car that wasn’t equipped with power steering. If you had, you’d know that that wasn’t anything compared to saving the bias-ply tires. Until Geoff Bodine started running power steering though, no one had it week in and week out.
All of those make the driver more comfortable. They do not however, change the quality of competition, and back before Earnhardt won his second championship, you just didn’t see more than two thirds of the field as regulars.
Back when Petty and Pearson were going at it, it was an even lower percentage, and only a few of those were really competitive. So no matter how hard you try to paint this rosy revisionist picture of how great they were back in the day, sorry, it’s just not true. They were great, but they wouldn’t be close to being as successful if they had to race against even the middle of the field these days.
It’s easy to look good when you’re racing against people that are well below your skill level and financial wherewithall. And that’s what happened with Petty, Allison(s), and Yarborough. When you have to run against 50 other teams week in and week out that are not that far off the mark, it’s a whole lot “stronger” field and a whole lot more competitive than back in the day.
Hey, I think we need to lay off the felon thing. Rick Hendrick might have done some dishonest things, but I think he paid the price with the loss of his son, his brother, other family members. God forgives, so can we.