DOVER, Del. – Well, now that that’s out of the way, we can resume our regularly-scheduled regimen of highlighting races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule without talking about Jimmie Johnson being winless in 2014.
The six-time series champion became a first time 2014 winner this past Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600. Off the schneid and into the Chase.
Race winners are virtually assured of qualifying for NASCAR’s “playoffs,” the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, contested over the final 10 races of the season. And a Chase without Johnson? Unthinkable. And now, as if on cue, speculation has begun about a record-tying seventh championship for the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet.
On a somewhat smaller scale, there also is speculation about the previously winless Johnson winning for the second week in a row, this weekend at Dover Int’l Speedway. This makes sense, since Johnson already is the all-time race winner at the track called the “Monster Mile,” with eight victories over a relatively brief 11-year span. The first two Dover victories came in Johnson’s rookie season via a season sweep; the last came in 2013’s second Dover event.
After the 600, Johnson joked about his team letting people know “the 48 is awake.” On second thought, he probably wasn’t joking. Win six championships and a “game face” is pretty much a permanent fixture.
First things first, though. Johnson has won more times at Dover than any other track except Martinsville, where he also has eight victories. And over the next two months, he’ll travel to other friendly confines: Pocono Raceway (twice), Daytona Int’l Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, having won three times at each; and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he has four victories, tied for the all-time lead with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.
“We’re off to a good start,” said Johnson, a nod to his sixth-place standing in the series points. “If we can take advantage of the next few tracks that are great tracks for us, it would be great momentum. Ideally you’d love to [get hot] before the Chase gets started and carry that right into the start of the Chase. But you never know when you’re going to peak and when everything’s going to be just right. We’ll hopefully peak at the right time.”
“[Something] we have on our side – we’re going to Dover, which is by far one of Jimmie’s favorite race tracks,” added crew chief Chad Knaus. “Then we’re going to Pocono, which is one of my favorite race tracks. Doesn’t hurt. So I think over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
Suddenly, “being winless” seems like so much ancient history.