It seems like a distance memory hearing the rumors of Jimmie Johnson’s decline. Michael Jordan won his six titles with the Chicago Bulls and called it quits, apparently six was Johnson’s number as well? However, after dominating victories the past two races at the Coca Cola 500 in Charlotte and the Fedex 400 in Dover, Johnson is right back in the – pun slightly intended – driver’s seat.
The No. 48 car dominated Dover last weekend, which is really not something out of the ordinary for that group. Johnson has only won there nine times. It may have been a new car, but the result was certainly a case of history repeating itself. Johnson said after the race, “It is incredible. I have so much to be thankful for: awesome race team, awesome car, awesome family…..(Crew Chief Chad Knaus) told me I’d love the car, and sure enough, he unloaded and he was right.”
Questions were coming in left and right about why the #48 had not crossed the checkered flag in first place this season. Which, was a fair question to ask the 8th most winning, 2nd active behind #24 (Jeff Gordon for those of you were didn’t get to play with enough Hotwheels as a kid), driver in the history of NASCAR.
Well, he answered - and it wasn’t this weird hernia surgery answer that took some (me) by surprise - with two, consecutive wins, something he has done a remarkable 13 times in his career. The two wins give him as much as any other driver, and the 98 points bolster him into fourth place overall, very much within striking distance for the upcoming Pocono 400. He’s currently 27 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, who oddly enough, does not have a win yet.
It really is a bit bizarre. I mean, people were writing articles saying that he wouldn’t win a race the whole year, and now the #48 Chevrolet team is holding down the #1 spot in the NASCAR power rankings. So, depending on what article you are reading the “slow start” is being attribute to lack of off-season testing, or injury, or lack of focus – there probably is no right answer.
The sarcastic questions shift now from: “will he ever win again?” to “will he ever lose again?”….. the wining streak may very well continue this weekend, Johnson thinks so. He claims that Pocono is the favorite track of Crew Chief Chad Knaus (the Popovich or Belichick of NASCAR) and that he sees no reason the team cannot “go on a roll” starting now.
Maybe all Johsnon needed a little luck and a little Dover to bounce out of that slump – or maybe that Hernia was bothering him a bit more in earlier races than he was letting on. Although, at this point it is all water under the bridge. Similar to the days of Tiger, the “Johnson vs. the field” bet would not be out of the ordinary – but the field of Pocono is wide open.
At some point, the #20 Toyota with Matt Kenseth is bound to run into a win. Brad Keselowski ran well in his second place finish at Dover, at has performed well in Pennsylvania. Denny Hamlin has won four times at Pocono in the last eight years. I would never bet against Jeff Gordon, just because I’m a homer – and he has also won five times there, but stats are overrated.
All that being said, Jimmie Johnson has had great success at Pocono in his past as well, the last three winners there have all been Chevy’s, his new car is running great, the track is the favorite of his experienced crew chief, I could give you a bunch more futile reasons why – but Jimmie Johnson appears to be in a great spot here.
If he does stay on this hot steak this season and does capture the point title, Johnson will slide into the very elite “seven championship club” lead by President Babe Ruth, and Vice President Robert Horry.