Jimmie Johnson remains winless after nine races in 2014 — but he’s had worse starts

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With one-fourth of the 2014 season already in the books, Jimmie Johnson is getting deeper and deeper in a winless hole, but it’s not the deepest he’s been to start a season.

Johnson went the first 11 races of 2003 without winning before cashing in at Charlotte in the 12th race of the season.

He went 10 winless races before winning in the 11th race of 2012 at Darlington.

And he went nine races in 2002 before winning his first of three races that season.

(Coincidentally, Johnson failed to go on to win any of his six Sprint Cup championships in those seasons)

So, there’s precedent for Johnson fans who are growing increasingly worried that the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ still hasn’t visited victory lane in 2014.

It’s easy to understand that concern, given that Johnson finished a season-worst 32nd Saturday at Richmond, finishing four laps down to the leaders and dropping to eighth in the Sprint Cup standings (also a season-low for him).

It’s the second straight poor performance Johnson has had at the .750-mile track at Richmond, having finished 40th there in the final Chase for the Sprint Cup qualifying event last September.

“I really thought we had a decent car and was going to run in the top-five, top 10 at the worst,” said Johnson, a former three-time winner at Richmond. “Then we had one run where we cut a right-front and the next run another right-front.

“I’m not exactly sure why we had that issue, but we did have back-to-back tire issues there. That really just kind of put an end to our night. We didn’t have anything for the win, but I thought we could run top-five.”

Seventeen races remain until the expanded 16-driver field for this season’s revamped Chase format is set. But ever the picture of positive mental attitude, Johnson is not worried about making the Chase, let alone winning a race or two – or more – in the next four-plus months prior to the start of the Chase in mid-September.

“This track has been tough on us so when it happened I was like, ‘alright things like that happen to us here,'” Johnson said of Richmond. “But I know we have some really good race tracks coming up and I’m looking forward to those tracks.

“This Chase and the way you can work your way into the Chase is more forgiving than it has ever been. We might have to count on that this year and make sure we get in the Chase a little later than we want.”

*** By the way, in case you’re wondering, Johnson’s best season starts have been 2010 (won three of the first five races), 2007 (won three of first six) and 2006 (won three of first nine). Not coincidentally, he went on to win championships in each of those seasons.

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”