It’s been almost a week now since Jimmie Johnson’s electrifying run to his record-tying seventh NASCAR Premier Series championship.
The race win at Homestead-Miami Speedway capped a remarkable turnaround after a summer when the entire Hendrick Motorsports team lacked the speed of the frontrunners.
Here are four reasons Johnson was able to tie Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt with seven titles:
When Johnson was a Premier Series rookie in 2002, Rick Hendrick was his car owner, Chad Knaus was his crew chief and Lowe’s was his sponsor. Guess what? They’re all still there with him.
Sure, in 15 years at Hendrick Motorsports there’s been turnover on the No. 48 Hendrick crew, but continuity has been a huge key to their success.
When things hit rock bottom this summer, Hendrick, Johnson and Knaus talked about whether or not it was time to break up. Instead, the decided to redouble their efforts together. A wise call.
Rick Hendrick is an incredible motivator. When things weren’t going well with the entire organization this summer, Hendrick showed up in person at a marathon 24-hour wind-tunnel test and stayed there through the entire time, not something easy to do when you’re 67 years old, but he did it.
Over the 20 years or so that I’ve covered this sport, I’ve heard numerous Hendrick drivers, crew chiefs, crewmembers, PR people and others all give the same exact answer when asked why they work so hard and sacrifice so much on behalf of the team: “We don’t want to disappoint Mr. H.”
You only get that level of respect when you earn it by walking the walk and not just talking the talk. And Hendrick has certainly earned it.
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Caution flags matter
Four of the 10 Chase races — ironically, the first two and the last two — saw the lead change hands in the final 10 laps because of a caution flag. The last pit stops and subsequent restarts of the race are the difference between winning and losing.
Twice in the three years of the current Chase format, bad pit stops eliminated championship contenders late in the final race at Homestead — Logano in 2014 and Kyle Busch this year.
And restarts were the difference at Homestead: Carl Edwards got wrecked by Logano on one and with the race and the championship on the line; Logano got smoked by Johnson in the other. That final restart was what got Johnson the win.
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After Johnson’s victory at Homestead, I asked Knaus what is the difference that’s allowed the No. 48 team to win seven title at a time when the competition is so tight and there are so many great drivers and teams.
This is what he told me, word for word: “Certainly. I hate to be this blunt, but it's Jimmie Johnson. You know, he is probably the most underrated champion in this sport, to be honest with you.
“He is a fantastic, fantastic individual, an amazing race car driver. Most people in the situation we were just in would crumble, and he didn't even waver. He knew what he needed to do. He knew what the demands were on him at that point in time, and he made it happen.
“You know, and that's the difference in the whole thing from my standpoint. We've got a great team. We've got a great owner. We've got a great everything at Hendrick Motorsports (and that) is fantastic, but the fact of the matter is the real spark in this whole thing is Jimmie."
After going back and watching the Homestead replay, it’s hard to argue with that.