Jimmie Johnson insists he's not worried that he hasn't won a race yet in 2014, but his eyes may tell a different story. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.