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Race Wins Are Nice But Not Yet Necessary

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 22 2014

Crew chief Chad Knaus and driver Jimmie Johnson are not desperate for a victory. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Not yet. And probably not for several more months if at all. That seems to be the view on when the Sprint Cup Series’ new win-oriented points format will kick teams and drivers into desperation mode.

So said six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on Friday at Auto Club Speedway, site of Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

“It’s not even close to time yet,” Johnson said when asked if he is getting antsy about being winless heading into the fifth race of the year.

The format, which was announced during the off season, was touted as putting major emphasis on winning races.

And, yes, in a big way it does that as getting a victory virtually assures race-winning drivers entry into a Chase that has been expanded from 12 to 16 drivers. But it is also doubtful that 16 drivers will win races this year and if all berths are not filled by winners, then the rest of the playoff field will go to those with highest point totals.

Hence a continued emphasis on points racing. And, hence, Johnson being non-antsy about not having a victory.

“When you look at the stats and you have 16 different winners in a year it’s a pretty rare occurrence,” he said. “I still think that points are every bit as important as they have been until you get to Homestead (for the final race of the year).

“Even when you get into the Chase itself the top guy in points will advance in pretty much every scenario or every scenario, even the final one to race at Homestead. So points are still the focus in what I’m looking at.”

Points-wise, Johnson is looking good – as early in the season as it may be. He is fifth heading into Fontana this weekend and second in terms of drivers who have not yet won a race – teammate Jeff Gordon is fourth in points.

And even though Johnson does not yet have a victory, well, the guess here is that he soon will. Because unless the racing world has reversed polarity, it is doubtful that Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team will go the entire non-Chase season without a victory.

He has won races in every season since 2002, which is his first full season in Sprint Cup. In fact, he has won multiple races in every one of his full seasons.

His season-high for victories is 10, which he logged in 2007.  Six times in his 12 full seasons he has won five or more races.

Hence his lack of ants.

“We have been able to win multiple races a year with a certain mindset,” he said. “I am not going to chase home runs. I’m looking at a smooth and consistent 26 races and when we get a look at a home run we are going to swing for it. But we are not stepping up to the plate every time trying to hit it out.”

It’s not just the top-tier performers who seem unworried about victories at this stage of the season.

Ryan Newman of Richard Childress Racing – in a No. 31 car that has not been in the Chase since 2010 when Jeff Burton was driving it – summed up his feelings about heading into Fontana sans-victory.

“We’re here for the best possible finish we can get,” he said Friday. “If it’s a win then great. If not, we’ll go for second or for third and so on. It’s not about, man, we should try harder to win or we should try harder to finish in the top 10 to get better points. We’re here to do the best we possibly can. We’ll lap the field if we can.”

So, getting wins is not the end-all under the new format. Race victories will loom largest late in the year and for drivers who have diminishing shots at getting in on points.

Right now, and for months to come if ever (a driver could most certainly win the championship without winning a race), victories are merely being viewed as insurance policies.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 22 2014
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