Team 48 comes back with a vengeance

Well, if you haven’t jumped on the Jimmie Johnson bandwagon before Phoenix, you certainly have to now.

Any time you come off a bad week, how you respond the following week is a great indicator of what you are made of. After what happened in Texas, you could not have asked for Team 48 to respond any better at Phoenix. When they unloaded at the track, they were good. They were good in practice, too, plus qualified third for the race. They then dominated that race and pulled off the win.

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Johnson certainly did not look like someone trying to protect the lead. To me, he looked like someone who was trying to increase his lead.

I guess one way to look at things is to be thankful that he did have the trouble at Texas or maybe the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup would already be over. As I told crew chief Chad Knaus, every time I watch this group perform, I just shake my head in disbelief — it is simply amazing they can be this good for this long. The records obviously speak for themselves.

If you look at the numbers, it would be easy to say Jimmie Johnson is the best driver the sport has ever seen at this stage of his career. The total is not there, but the performance is. I think he even exceeds teammate Jeff Gordon in what he has been able to accomplish in his time in the sport. That to me is what makes him so dangerous yet controversial at the same time. Obviously, you can’t evenly rank him against the likes of Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt because they didn’t all race against each other at the same time. Everybody is always going to argue that point.

Johnson is clearly setting himself apart from a lot of people just by the numbers alone. The numbers will clearly tell you how good this man really is. With what he has been able to accomplish in his short time in the sport, I would be hard-pressed not to say he is the best our sport has ever seen. I know that’s a bold statement, but that’s just how incredibly good this guy has been.

As we head to Homestead this weekend, at least for me, it is somewhat anticlimactic now that all the cards have basically been played. Is it over-over? No, it’s not. It won’t be over until the checkered flag drops at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That being said, it’s going to take nothing short of divine intervention to change the outcome.

I mean, let’s be fair. We saw the proverbial apple cart get upset two weeks ago, and I think it’s going to taking nothing less than that again for the outcome to even remotely be in question. What I will be interested in seeing is whether Jimmie and Chad show up to race or show up to win another championship. You simply do what you have to do. You don’t take the risk and put yourself in harm’s way.

What I mean by that is if you can lead, well, then lead. However, if you have to put it too far out on the edge, well, then you just ride. You just drive smart. That, to me, is what is so impressive about Jimmie Johnson. The man is just incredibly smart. More times than not, Jimmie doesn’t put himself in position to get caught up in someone else’s mistake. Jimmie simply does a great job of taking care of that race car.

Around the garage

  • I am excited like most folks are about the controversy deal between Denny Hamlin and Brad Kesolowski. You might say it is too long overdue. We need this kind of spirit and passion in our sport. I think Brad brings a fresh and different outlook to the sport. He may not understand how the game is played yet, but he plays it just like his life depends on it. I have to say that it’s kind of exciting.
  • The other thing that came out of Phoenix was it seemed like the Richard Childress Racing cars are starting to rebound a little. OK, well, at least a couple of their cars are. The one thing that comes to mind is that crew chief Todd Barrier, who is now with Jeff Burton, is making his former driver, Kevin Harvick, look pretty bad. It just seems everywhere Todd goes, he pulls up their performance. On Kevin’s side of things, his performance isn’t what we thought it should be or can be. I think it has to be tough for Kevin to watch Jeff Burton come to life now that Todd is over there with him.

Final thought

While this may be the final week of the season and a lot of folks are looking forward to well-earned vacations, there still are a lot of these teams that are searching for that final win of the season to give them some consolation to the 2009 season.

With that said, will we see someone win this race that we don’t expect?

As this year comes to a close, you should also have a good appreciation of how burnout can affect a team. It’s not to say that’s what has happened to Stewart-Haas Racing, whose results have taken a dip in recent weeks, but I think you can look at Brian Vickers as a good example. They seemed to give all they had to simply make the Chase and then have been flat ever since.

So Sunday at Homestead is going to put closure on a lot of things. Obviously, the biggest will be who the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is. Personally, I believe it will be Jimmie Johnson. With that being said, there are still a lot of people out there looking for one last hurrah before we take off for the winter. So it will be interesting to see who brings their A game to Homestead this weekend and makes it happen.

FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW’s three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

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