NASCAR

Staying calm key to Johnson's success

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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I've been around this sport for over 20 years, and I can't remember seeing a driver or a team get as hot at the end of the year as the No. 48 team did this season. There aren't many times in your lifetime when you get to witness excellence, and that's what you saw this season with Jimmie Johnson's team. What the No. 48 team has done to Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and the rest of the Chase for the Nextel Cup drivers is unprecedented. Somebody will pull out a stat and say, "Hey, wait a minute, Steve. Guys have won four in a row." That's true, including Gordon back in 1998. But not in the final races of the season with the championship coming down to its final laps. I'm just in awe of the performance, but I really appreciated what I watched because what we all saw history being made. There are a couple of factors behind his success. I knew Johnson when he was driving an American Speed Association stock car, which led to him getting a Busch Series ride with Herzog Motorsports. From then until now, he's been one of the most unpretentious and grounded professional athletes that I've ever met. It's an important part of his success because he makes winning look effortless. He handles the media and sponsors graciously and doesn't have any false bravado about him. His personality is such that he can handle pressure.

Speed Mail Steve

On the other side of the coin, that race team deserves a lot of credit. We're very quick to single out Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, but all of them are superstars. I don't know if I've ever seen a team adapt to a particular race or situation as well as the No. 48 team. They never seem to panic. When Johnson led 334 of 400 laps in the 2004 Coca-Cola 600, I worked their pits for NASCAR on FOX. They made adjustments to the car on every single pit stop. You might sit back and say, "Wow, he led over 300 laps. He just had the dominant race car." No, they had a good race car, but they had a game plan. Knaus and his engine tuner had even factored in the barometric pressure for how the engine was going to react later in the race. And they adjusted on every single stop. It wasn't just, "Let's put on four tires, get as much gas as we can and go." They adjusted that race car, and he had to come through traffic a couple of times. If you just look at it on paper, he led over 300 laps and dominated, but it wasn't easy. They just make it look easy. Johnson is so grounded and unpretentious, and he has the uncanny ability to adapt to the racetrack or the situation. That's why he defended his Nextel Cup Series championship.


NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer

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