I think one of the biggest surprises — and not in a good way — in this 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase has been the performance of the No. 48. This really is unchartered territory here. Jimmie has won six championships and it seemed no matter how he performed in the regular season that come Chase time that bunch over there had a switch they flipped to take their performance to another level. Evidently the switch must have blown a fuse, because their performance has been less than stellar so far in the Chase.
I have actually been asking all year about what was wrong with the No. 48. I keep getting told not to worry about it because they will get it turned around. Early in the season the excuse was they were behind with the new 2014 rules package because they had to put all the focus on winning the 2013 championship. What they were saying was they had to laser-lock on today and couldn’t look to tomorrow.
It seemed like they had come out of the funk around May, when Jimmie started ripping off wins. If you look at the season as a whole, what bothers me the most is their inconsistency. That is just so out of character for that team. To get that consistency back is what everyone over there at the No. 48 has to be scratching their head about.
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I think the changes to the 2014 rules package has thrown them off their game just enough to where they are now beatable, when before come Chase-time they weren’t. They just don’t seem comfortable about getting the car the way Jimmie wants it. There is also those that say after listening to the team radio throughout the season that maybe Jimmie and his crew chief Chad Knaus have run their course together. I don’t know if that is valid yet.
So what will they do? Well, if you heard Jimmie with the press at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he pretty much said that his 2014 championship hopes were slipping away. Maybe they will simply ride out the rest of the year trying to do the best they can and get ready for the new 2015 rules changes that supposedly coming down from NASCAR in the off-season.
I’m not saying Jimmie can’t make it to the third round. Everyone knows the power of the Hendrick engines on the superspeedway tracks. That, plus the fact that Jimmie has won at Talladega before plays into his favor come Sunday. But there really is no gray area, Jimmie has to win Sunday to advance. Because of the point deficit, simply finishing in the top 5 isn’t going to do it for the No. 48. He and three other cars would be eliminated from this year’s Chase.
Because of their inconsistency all year, I had predicted that Jimmie wouldn’t make it to the final four at Homestead in November with a chance to win his record-tying seventh title. He can still pull it out Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, but it’s going to take a win to do it.