Professional athletes who have won multiple championships enter each new season with high expectations. It’s part of an athleteʻs mentality — once a winner, always a winner.
But that might not always be the case, especially in NASCAR.
The competition changes. Teams changes. A driver’s capability changes. Even the cars change.
For Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, the struggle of not meeting expectations can make or break his season.
What if he performs better than people think he will? What would that mean for a No. 48 team looking for a fresh primary sponsor for the first time? How much is riding on Johnson’s performance this season?
Speaking of performance, Chase Briscoe is trading in his Ford Performance colors at Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series for a shot to drive Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 98 machine. Briscoe will compete for the team in five contests, in addition to the 12 drives he’ll have with RFR.
Briscoe is a Ford Performance development driver, the only official one at Ford, actually. His peers who share the No. 60 ride with him, Ty Majeski and Austin Cindric, are each considered development drivers by their teams. But what can we expect out of Briscoe as he swaps to another team for a few contests?
Q: What can we expect out of Jimmie Johnson moving forward? – Neil A., Dallas
A: Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates appear to finally be turning a corner.
It took a few weeks to get going with the new Chevrolet Camaro body, but it’s starting to work. While the organization might be behind to start the season, an off-week can do wonders for this team.
Johnson has an average finish of 19.2 to start 2018. Historically, he isn’t one to have outstanding average finishes as he’s only had sub-11th average finishes four times in his career.
Johnson’s ability to dominate races and pull his No. 48 car into Victory Lane time-and-time again is what led him to win seven titles. It’s OK that he hasn’t been outstanding to start the season, and fans need to realize that.
The No. 48 team is settling into their groove after a few rough races. When Johnson finished ninth at Auto Club Speedway, the team was able to take a deep breath. While he finished 15th a week later at Martinsville, it at least showed that he isn’t as far off as we may have thought.
If Johnson can knock off a win over the next few races, it will determine how he will do for the rest of the year. This team usually performs much better when they are under pressure, thus their success during the 10-race playoff for so many years.
Remember, Johnson had a rough start last year, too. What did he do? He went out and won at both Texas and Bristol Motor Speedway. If he could pull into the Winner’s Circle at either, or even both, of those venues once again, it will be a giant middle finger to those saying he should call it quits.
But winning is only the first part of this equation. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus will still have their work cut out for them, even with a victory. The standard is so high for this team that just having a few wins on the season isn’t enough. They need to be title contenders, especially as the Hendrick Motorsports marketing staff is trying to sell a sponsorship package that will be worth quite the hefty amount.
Q: How will Chase Briscoe perform with Stewart-Haas Racing? – Chelsea R., Daytona Beach
A: Briscoe is one of the most talented drivers moving up through the NASCAR rankings because of his raw ability to find speed.
This is a young man who could potentially join Ryan Blaney as the future of the blue oval in NASCAR’s premier division. Even as Brad Keselowski Racing was closing its doors, Briscoe did the unthinkable and scored a triumph in the Camping World Truck Series season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
His impressive rookie campaign last year featured 10 top fives and 14 top 10s. Add in some stellar performances in 2017 and Briscoe certainly earned himself this gig with Stewart-Haas Racing.
The No. 98 team is a strong one, probably much stronger than Roush’s No. 60 squad since that is a brand new team altogether. Roush put it all together over the off-season, and it’s running on-par with the team’s other full-time entry, the No. 16 car with Ryan Reed behind the wheel.
This combined effort between SHR and Biagi DenBeste Racing has provided the No. 98 team with its strongest line-up yet. Over the past few years, Biagi partnered with Richard Petty Motorsports to have some of its Cup drivers run the XFINITY Series. But now, it has premier Cup drivers, premier equipment and even its own development driver.
Briscoe is going to enter a car that dominated at Atlanta with Kevin Harvick piloting it, leading 141 of 163 laps.
These additional five races will be vital to his future. This car will be more capable of competing for a win, and it might attract different partners that could work with him in a future deal at either SHR or RFR.
In Briscoe’s XFINITY Series debut, which just happened to come in Harvick’s dominating victory, he finished one lap down in 15th. It was a solid debut compared to Cindric’s four finishes of 16th or worse in the No. 60 car.
Briscoe will run quite well in the No. 98 machine. Don’t be surprised if he even sneaks up and competes for a win as he looks to secure his future.