NASCAR

Johnson, team in championship form

We follow Jimmie Johnson as he dominates in Pocono for his third visit to Victory Lane this season.
We follow Jimmie Johnson as he dominates in Pocono for his third visit to Victory Lane this...
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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To do what Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and that entire No. 48 group does, in today’s NASCAR competition, takes every piece of the puzzle being at their best. In 12 seasons, Jimmie already has racked up 63 wins and, of course, the five consecutive championships. You simply can’t accomplish that unless you are a great race car driver.

Looking beyond just the driver, you find so many layers that are at the top of their field. Naturally it starts with the owner, Rick Hendrick, who gives all his four teams anything and everything they need to win. Those four teams want for nothing. So they have the depth of resources at their fingertips.

They have a great aero program. They’ve got a great chassis program. The folks in the engine department are obviously turning out great horsepower. When Jimmie hits pit road, he knows his pit crew will be spot-on. It’s rare to see Jimmie Johnson receive a speeding penalty on pit road. It’s rare to see Jimmie Johnson have to come back to pit road for a lose wheel. They just don’t make mistakes. It’s almost like they have ice water running through their veins.

Look at Dover two weeks ago. They made a mistake that cost them the win. They didn’t dwell on it, though. They put it behind them and went out and dominated at Pocono to bring home yet another checkered flag. They never rest on their success while at the same time never hang onto their failures. It’s business as usual.

Crew chief Chad Knaus told me that he has a pact with Jimmie. It doesn’t matter if they have a good day, or like Sunday a great day, or like at Dover a disastrous day: When the clock strikes high noon on Monday, the focus is on the next race.

Many race fans ask me if Jimmie is peaking too early. My response is I can’t find a single reason why they can’t keep this going all the way through to another championship. I just don’t see this group going the wrong direction come October and November just because they are having so much success right now.

Believe it or not, this weekend at Michigan is a track that Jimmie hasn’t won at yet. He has won at Sonoma, which comes up next week, but in reality, when you think of road course racers, Jimmie’s name doesn’t jump first in your mind. So I am curious to see how they get through these next two races.

That’s not to say that the No. 48 is unbeatable and they might as well go ahead and call the engraver of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy. Don’t forget it was only one year ago that Jimmie was leading the Chase with two races to go, only to fall short. This year, Matt Kenseth, who moved to Joe Gibbs Racing, has been a dominant car. Matt was dominating at Daytona back in February and if it wasn’t for a blown motor, we’d be talking about Matt and not Jimmie as our 2013 Daytona 500 winner.

Also remember that with his win at Pocono last week, Jimmie has caught and tied Matt with three wins this season. So don’t think the No. 48 camp doesn’t realize that the No. 20 car is a serious threat to their championship dreams. As everyone knows, Toyota is working on fixing their engine issues, particularly in the valve-spring area. If they can get that put behind them, I can see the No. 48 and the No. 20 going right down to Homestead in November before we know who our 2013 champion will be.

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson

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