Johnson waxed ’em

I was pretty amazed after Sunday’s race to hear all these so-called pundits say that, “Well, I guess we can’t count out the No. 48.”

How in the world after the first race at Loudon, in which, granted, they had a bad race, how could you already count the No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson out? Aren’t they our defending champion for the past four consecutive years? That was pretty amusing to hear all that.

Let’s face it, the No. 48 team is the team to beat. The No. 48 sets the standard in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. They have all 10 tracks in the Chase dialed in. Sunday at Dover International Speedway was a perfect example. Jimmie has dominated at Dover for the past couple years. He simply did it again Sunday.

He and his Hendrick Motorsports team sat on the pole, led the most laps and won the race. Crew chief Chad Knaus calls that “max points and max weekend.” When you dominate like that, you did everything you possibly could at that given track. Some teams qualify well. Some teams race well and get good finishes. Not the No. 48 – they look to max out every single weekend. That’s simply what they do when the Chase starts.

Sure, they are going to have bad races. You can’t go weekend after weekend like our sport does and not have a bad race. The difference is that the No. 48 has a lot more good weekends than they do bad ones. They are also going to max out the points on weekends more often than not.

I just wonder if folks that make predictions and are supposed to be experts, shouldn’t they know what they are talking about? Aren’t you expected to be right more than you are wrong? I am just seeing a growing number of people that follow our sport, but they do it with blinders on.

How can you discount the history and performance of the No. 48? Jimmie Johnson has 19 Chase wins in the 62 Chase races to date. That’s nearly 31 percent. The next closest is Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, with only six wins each. Face it, when it comes Chase time, the No. 48 is a locomotive. It’s going down the track with a full head of steam and you better not get in its way or it will run right over you.

Just look at the upcoming tracks for the No. 48. This weekend is Kansas Speedway, and the Hendrick 1.5-mile program is flawless. We all know about Hendrick steam under the hood when it comes to the superspeedways like Talladega at the end of October. It’s the same with short tracks such as Martinsville in a few weeks. Again, there simply isn’t a track these cats go to in the Chase that they aren’t excited about.

We all clearly saw back in the early spring, when they went from the wing to the spoiler, that it was a setback for Hendrick Motorsports in general. Now they have overcome it, especially the No. 48. I really don’t see anything slowing this group down.

I have brought this up before, but the only remaining concern I have is the pit crew. For whatever reason, this year more than ever, they continue to have issues in the pits. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a slow stop, while other times they will be forced to come back in like two weeks ago at Loudon.

Track position is so critical these days, so the work in the pits is the only concern I have. If you just look at Chad you can tell he has all but pulled all his hair out trying to resolve those issues. Sunday at Dover was a good day for them. They lost a spot off pit road to Kyle Busch on that last stop, but they were so fast they got around Joey Logano and then took the lead from Kyle on their way to winning the race.

As a crew chief, you know you don’t want to put your driver in that position every week where he has to make that up on the track. So again, that’s my area of concern when it comes to the No. 48. They seem to be hit or miss sometimes with that. Obviously, they are aware of it and working on it. They simply can’t afford to get bit at Martinsville, for example, where you can’t give up spots on pit road.

So the Chase is on. Here comes pride up the backstretch and heartaches going to the inside, to paraphrase the old song. We already have four guys with a lot of heartache. You have Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and, naturally, Clint Bowyer bringing up the rear. I hate to say it, but they really have all but eliminated themselves from the 2010 Chase.

There is talk about eliminating folks every race, and then you get to Homestead with only a couple guys fighting for the crown. We already do that, and there aren’t any rules that have to be changed to make it happen. Simply look at the history of the Chase. After three or four races, half the field is normally eliminated anyway. It always seems to come down to Homestead with two guys having a legitimate shot at the title.

Last year it was Jimmie and Mark Martin. The reality was Jimmie only had to start the race, stay out of trouble and he was the champion again. If you look at the history of our sport, other than a few odd-ball years where someone ran away with the points lead, most every year went to the last race. There the lead guy pretty much had it sewed up, but the second-place guy still had a chance. It’s been that way forever.

I cautiously agreed with predictions everyone was making that this could be the best year ever for a wide open Chase. The RCR cars are running so much better than last year. For a while there I thought the Roush Fenway Racing cars would be contenders. I thought they had turned a corner, but, honestly, I am not so sure. I thought there would be more competition for the No. 48 this year.

Unfortunately, after two races I just don’t see it happening. Sure, two races doesn’t make a Chase. We have eight more to go. A lot of things can happen, we all know that. You hear teams taking about trends, well these Chase races have trends as well. If you maintain the trend of a two-man battle going into Homestead, it would look to be Jimmie and Denny Hamlin. Remember, too, that it was predicted of these two guys when the season started.

Coming out of Loudon, we had the Bowyer penalty which has turned the Richard Childress Racing group upside down. Kevin Harvick, who has had a great year and really didn’t have a dog in the Bowyer/Hamlin fight, decided he was going to defend the honor of his teammate, owner and RCR organization, and gets into a shoving match with Denny.

Let’s face it, that is a distraction. So while all these guys are over here bickering, pushing and shoving on and off the track, the No. 48 is just methodically going about their business and getting the job done.

You can’t distract the No. 48. Jimmie and Chad are the most focused duo in the garage area. That’s what makes them so good. I still maintain anyone that wants to beat them needs to lock all their guys in the shop and for 10 weeks they eat, sleep and breathe that race car. No cell phones, no Facebook, no Twitter, not anything but 100 percent commitment to the race car.

I don’t understand why other teams don’t adopt that philosophy. That’s how committed the No. 48 is to winning. They are flawless when it comes to the Chase. It must be the blind obvious, one of my favorite sayings, of how the No. 48 gets it done. The other teams aren’t able to see it.

So next up is Kansas Speedway. I will be there working for SPEED. I am excited about this weekend because I have never been to the track. They were fortunate to get a second date in 2011, and since one of their races falls into the NASCAR on FOX portion, I thought I would go get the lay of the land.

Folks had better take their blinders off and open their eyes, though, because you won’t see that No. 48 very long because pretty soon they will be long gone.