NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2008 Driver Review: Jimmie Johnson

2008 Ride: No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2008 Primary Sponsor: Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools
2008 Owner: Rick Hendrick/Jeff Gordon
2008 Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
Stats: 36 races, 7 wins, 15 top fives, 22 top 10s, 1 DNF, 2008 Sprint Cup Series champion

Best Finish: First (Seven times: Phoenix – 2; Indianapolis; Fontana (fall); Richmond (fall); Kansas; Martinsville (fall))

High Point: While a 15th-place finish wasn’t what Jimmie Johnson and his team hoped for at Homestead, it was more than enough to win the 2008 Sprint Cup championship for the third time in a row – tying Johnson with Cale Yarborough as the only two drivers in NASCAR’s six decades to win three straight. Knaus is the first crew chief to pull off a three-peat, however, as Yarborough’s titles came with two different head wrenches. It capped an outstanding November for Johnson, who also scored his 40th career victory one week earlier at Phoenix – padding his second-place position in wins among active, full-time drivers.

Low Point: Las Vegas. Johnson and Knaus never could get a handle on the car, and the resulting 29th-place finish in March was the worst ever for the team that could not be attributed to a mechanical, other car issue, or a crash.

Summary: Knaus said the team would be five months behind to start the season, and he was dead on – the first five months went by with hardly a whimper from the defending champions, save for a win at Phoenix. Then, as summer heated up, the team pulled an about face and instead of their usual slump went on a tear. Finishing second at Chicago, they won at Indianapolis two weeks later to kickstart a move up the standings. They won again at Fontana and Richmond and then took three more wins in the Chase to herald a return to the top, never finishing worse than 15th in the final 10 races to win the championship easily.

2008 Team Ranking: First. Johnson was clearly the cream of the crop at HMS in 2008, claiming his third straight championship title.

Off-Track News: Johnson and wife Chandra gave away the keys for the first home built in a joint effort by Habitat for Humanity and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. The home is located in the area of southern California where Johnson grew up.

2009 Outlook: There is no reason this team can’t make history with a fourth title in 2009. The team remains intact, with the exception of spotter Stevie Reeves, who will be replaced by Earl Barban, who guided Johnson to his first title on 2005. The test ban will play to the advantage of the teams already at the top of their game, though this team used testing more effectively than any other in 2008. Still, Johnson and Knaus communicate better than any other driver and crew chief in the garage – and in the end, that, coupled with the team’s ability to overcome any adversity thrown at them, that is what wins championships.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: A+
2007 Grade: A+
2008 Grade: A+

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