CALABASAS, CA–For the past 14 years, nobody has been more dominate in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, quite the way Jimmie Johnson has. Whenever a new challenger would present themselves to the fight, Johnson would seem to find a way to end up leaps and bounds better than his competition, almost turning on a switch and lighting a fire so bright it could be seen from space.
From 2006-2010 the Henrdrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver would rack off a historic five straight championships, eclipsing the likes of Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin. Nobody in the history of the sport, not Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough or even Gordon had ever done anything close to what Johnson had achieved in a five year span. He made it look easy and it seemed like nobody on this planet had the kryptonite to stop Superman, however that all seemed to change these last few seasons.
2013 was a magical season for Johnson, his Crew Chief Chad Knaus. After a disappointing 2012 where Brad Keselowski out dueled Johnson in the season finale, a rejuvenated and hungry No.48 team started off strong, winning his second Daytona 500 in the brand new Gen.6’s debut. He would go on to rack off six victories en route to what is now his sixth final title to date, stacking him one behind Petty and Earnhardt each of whom have seven titles apiece and rank first on the all-time championship wins list.
Something however seemed to change within that team in the 2014 season. Johnson had achieved four victories but something wasn’t all quite right in the state of Denmark.
With the introduction to the brand new Chase format in 2014, some saw this format as a way to keep Johnson from winning another title or the “Matt Kenseth Rule”, while others looked beyond the “hidden agenda” and were excited about a new exciting change.
The change however, would show a crack in the armor of one of the most powerful teams in series history. With a near miss in the first round, the No.48 team would struggle in the second, with horrific luck at Kansas and Charlotte, forcing Johnson to to drive the race of his life at Talladega, where he would wind up missing the next round in the end.
In 2015 more of the same would plague Johnson, a great regular season would be all for not when Chase time came as he would find himself once again facing adversity. The final race of round one was one of Johnson’s best tracks, Dover International Speedway. A place where he would find success a record ten times in his storied career. However, he would not make it to eleven on this day, as a five dollar part would end his day early and knock him once again out of championship contention.
Turning the page to this season, Johnson once again, would find early success, being the first driver in the season to have a pair of wins, at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. Ranking him inside the top three in the standings. and also tying and surpassing the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth on the all-time wins list in the process.
But since March, it has seemed that everything has gone south for the almost bulletproof No.48 team.
Falling into a horrific summer stretch that sent Johnson and team into a tailspin, with mechanical failures, to pit road blunders and uncharacteristic driver errors, saw the HMS driver fall from well within the top three in points, all the way to the bottom half of the top ten. Failing to have a completely incident free race since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
A once heavy favorite this time of season, Johnson is now a guy that many believe will be eliminated well before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In a format where wins grant you a, “free pass” into the next round, it is imperative that Knaus and Johnson must be on the same page and must perform at the caliber that everyone has been so used to seeing, since his emergence to the series in 2002. Otherwise, it will be another wasted “shoulda, coulda, woulda” type season for this sure fire first ballot, Hall-of-Fame driver.
It is once again time for Clark Kent to come out of the phone booth and for 10 weeks, show the world what Superman can do, scaling the leader board once again and taking down NASCAR’s best in a single bound.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Rence Brown is Race Chaser Online’s West Coast-based correspondent, who currently resides in California and carries a deep passion for NASCAR, but is a follower of multiple forms of auto racing across multiple disciplines.
Brown, 23, is going back to school to pursue a journalism degree at Pierce College.
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