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Jimmie Time: Johnson Fast When He Needs To Be

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 21 2013

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson coming alive at the right time. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

LOUDON, N.H. – Jimmie Johnson’s mini-slump is over.

After finishing the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season with four straight clunkers – 40, 36, 28, 40 – the five time series champion is back in the groove with a fifth-place finish in the opening event of the 10-race Chase for the championship.

Going into the Michigan race in mid-August, Johnson had not finished worse than 28th this season. In the first 22 races of the 2013 season, the Hendrick Motorsports driver had racked up 15 top-10 finishes, including four wins.

Then came the stretch that had the Jimmie haters salivating. Maybe this would be the year that the guy who always rises to the occasion in the postseason, winning 22 of the 91 Chase events since the playoffs began in 2004, would lose his magic touch.

He hasn’t visited Victory Lane since July at Daytona, but the man who has won 64 Cup races in his career, is not concerned by the recent victory drought.

“When you get to the Chase, at least (from) my focal point, you can’t look back on the regular season,’’ Johnson said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he will start from the 11th position in Sunday’s Sylvania 300.

“It doesn’t matter if you dominated it or if you’ve been behind. It’s a 10-race stretch of its own. With that in mind, I haven’t won in a week. I finished fifth and had a shot at a win last week (at Chicagoland Speedway). So that’s how you have to look at it, honestly.’’

Johnson’s mindset has turned to Chase mode, meaning he’s forgotten about those recent problems and all he’s thinking about are the opportunities ahead to win races and another championship, his first since 2010.

“I know that Dover, Martinsville, our performance on the plate tracks this year, and on the 1.5-mile (tracks) in general, I know there are good opportunities for us ahead,’’ he said. “So, blinders on. Focus on the No. 48. Focus on what we need to do and not let the outside opinions or what goes on be a distraction for us.

“We need to run our best 10 (races),’’ Johnson added. “I honestly feel if we put together our best 10 races, we’ll be in contention for the championship.’’

Ryan Newman, NASCAR’s longtime qualifying ace, will start from the pole Sunday after winning the 51st pole of his career. Kasey Kahne and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, two of Johnson’s Hendrick teammates, will start second and third.

Matt Kenseth, who leads runner-up Kyle Busch by eight points in the Chase standings and is 11 ahead of Johnson, will start ninth. Busch qualified 12th.

The fourth Hendrick entry, also among the 13 drivers in the Chase is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had a rough day at the Chicago track. A blown engine relegated him to a 35th-place finish and dropped the fan favorite a daunting 53 points behind Kenseth.

Johnson said Earnhardt can’t give up hope.

“That’s not the way you want to start the Chase,’’ he said. “Last year, I had two bad races … and still had a chance going into (the finale at) Homestead. So I think there is still a chance for them.

“Unfortunately, they’re losing control. And that’s what no one wants to have happen. As you have poor finishes or bad finishes or whatever the cause, you lose control. But we’ll see. In 10 races anything can happen.’’

The wild card in the Chase, the always scary race at Talladega, is still out there ahead of the drivers.

“I think once you get through Talladega the championship picture becomes more clear,’’ Johnson noted. “(If you had a bad start) it’s not time to panic, yet.’’

On the other hand, with the Chase start Johnson had a Chicagoland, it might be time for the competition to start worrying.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 21 2013
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Shane says:

    Ken,not suprised at all! And everybody makes nice and plays along, but if was another team..lookout!

  • Ken says:

    Johnson fast when he needs to be? Really? He was never slow! Yes, like as what has already been said, everyone has been sheep (Isn’t the saying ‘Lambs to the slaughter’?) if they think “Chammie” have been in a slump. This “slump” that started at Michigan? Let me tell you what could be seen from the grandstands on Saturday morning. Johnson was very fast in the morning practice. All of a sudden, he loops it (oil on the track, he said) and backs it into the wall. As he was sliding down into the turn four grass, my buddy is tapping me on the shoulder and pointing to the garage. There, as clear as the day it was, was the 48 team already unloading the back-up car out of the hauler. Then, the back-up is ready in record time, and it is faster than the primary car! And the blown engine the next day? Nobody seemed too upset, least of all Chad. Bottom line, they were experimenting. they had already clinched their chase spot, so why not try different things. Well folks, the experimenting is over! And everyone thinks this miraculous recovery from a slump is legitimate! Can you say “con job”?

  • Digusted says:

    I agree with NascarCred. The lynching of the other teams in this has been despicable by HMS fans and the moral bullies (who scream for any cause and they don’t know why). The media,starting in the booth in Richmond (knowing they were out of jobs next season, let it rip, and then it started). All a bunch of two faced jerks. I do not blame MWR to the degree that others do, and I will not give Napa a dime.

    Hypocrites all of them from the knee jerked pious spewing garbage from Brian France to everybody else with a imaginary moral high ground Shameful.

  • Shane says:

    It really is a mircle that Jimmie’s woe’s are a thing of the past now that his teammate Jeffery is in “The Chase”, was there any doubt about it? What person with a sane mind really believe these people had a..ahem..mini slump. Come on.. The sheep believe and repeat the Kool Aid mantra… HMS are “innovators” everybody else “cheaters”…lol. The whole thing is beyond insane.

  • NASCAR No Credibility says:

    I am still waiting for NASCAR to penalize Jimmy Johnson and Rick Hendrick for Jimmy Johnson manipulating the last four races before the chase began. Jimmy Johnson was holding back in an attempt to help the three other Hendrick cars and the one Hendrick satellite team car from Hendrick’s Stewart/Hass shops. Now that the Hendrick cars got into the chase with NASCAR creating a new thirteenth position for Gordon, Jimmy Johnson is back to being a top five car again.

    This is far worse than anything Michael Waltrip Racing did.