(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

With Jimmie Johnson finally having won a race, what will the media do now?

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When he was brought into the media center of Charlotte Motor Speedway after winning Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Jimmie Johnson asked the media a question before he took theirs.

“What the hell are you all going to write about now? We won. Anybody?” Johnson said with a big smile on his face.

That’s simple, Jimmie, we’ll write about Matt Kenseth still being winless.

Getting a bit more serious, the weight of not having a win in 2014 has finally been lifted off Johnson’s shoulders. And while that’s good for Johnson, who becomes the 10th different winner in the season’s first 12 races, it’s terrible for NASCAR.

Wait, let me clarify that a bit more.

It’s terrible for every other driver in Sprint Cup. Because we know all too well that when Johnson gets hot, he typically stays hot.

And with a number of tracks coming up where he has been nothing short of outstanding, Johnson is poised to go from previously being winless to an unstoppable winning machine.

Look at this coming Sunday’s race at Dover. In 24 starts there, Johnson will be going for his ninth win and 18th overall top 10 finish.

From there, the series moves to Pocono, where Johnson has three wins and 16 top 10 finishes in 24 starts.

Surprising as it may seem, after that comes Michigan, where Johnson has never won a Cup race, one of only five tracks that he has never visited victory lane at.

Then there’s Sonoma (one win), Kentucky (no wins), Daytona (three wins) and New Hampshire (three wins).

So over the course of the next seven upcoming races, Johnson has earned 18 wins, nearly one-quarter of the 67 wins he has earned in his Cup career.

If this were Major League Baseball, Johnson would be coming into the sweet spot of the season. And with his win Sunday, it doesn’t get much sweeter – or optimistic – that he’ll most definitely make up for what it took 12 races to finally cash in on.

“The thing that’s on our side is that we’ve got on our side is a little bit of time to really get an understanding of what’s going on,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “The other thing we’ve got on our side is we’re going to Dover, which is by far one of Jimmie’s favorite racetracks.

“Then we’re going to Pocono, which is one of my favorite racetracks. Doesn’t hurt. So I think over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

That’s all the other 40-some Cup teams needed to hear. But for Johnson, he’ll savor Sunday’s win a little longer than normal, still knowing that there are 24 more races still to be won this season.

“We’re off to a good start,” Johnson said. “Multiple wins do that. If we can take advantage of the next few tracks that are great tracks for us, it would be great momentum.”

Now Johnson can go back somewhat to normal. Everything is right in his world, in the sense that he finally won a race in 2014. Still, Johnson was never vexed or jaded or anxious about it. It just took him a little longer than planned.

“More than anything, I just got tired of answering the question (of when his first win of 2014 would come),” Johnson admitted. “There wasn’t a lot of frustration due to pressure of winning. There was frustration in not having fast racecars, but that’s a different situation.

“Granted, tonight simplifies things. We’ll take it, move on. We really want to heat up and win races later in the season, especially before the Chase starts.

“I guess we’ve created this environment for ourselves. I honestly wasn’t stressing. The fact that 12 races created that much buzz just means we’ve done a lot of great things over the years, so I’ll turn it into a compliment.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar CEO: No safety changes for 2016 car, despite Wilson death

indycar ceo mark miles
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An investigation into the August accident that killed driver Justin Wilson has resulted in no recommendations for immediate safety changes in race cars, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said.

But changes could be in line by 2017, including some sort of canopy or enclosed cockpit or surrounding apron to protect drivers, Miles told USA Today.

The 37-year-old Wilson was struck in the head from a piece of debris that flew off Sage Karam’s wrecked car during a race at Pocono Raceway. Wilson died the following day in a Pennsylvania hospital.

“What the report provides is a lot of technical data about the energy involved and the forces and exactly what happened and all of that,” Miles told USA Today. “I don’t think there were any revelations. I think for everybody, with or without the report, all of us hope to be able to make progress in finding ways to make the cockpit safer and to reduce the risks.

“So for example, there may be some short-term measures like tethering some parts that weren’t this year, but could be. That’s a work in progress. But I don’t want to give the sense that was because of anything revealed in the accident investigation. What you think happened, happened there.”

One area that has received considerable discussion is the potential for enclosed cockpits or canopies in Indy cars. But the development of such a device will take time, prompting Miles to predict that if canopies or capsules are ultimately added as a safety precaution, it likely would not occur until at least the 2017 season.

“You’re not going to see a change to the car for next year in this regard just because I don’t think it’s possible,” Miles said. “… These are technical challenges and it’s hard to imagine that anything transformative will happen this year. At this point, I wouldn’t rule out 2017, but the research has to be done, the development has to be done to answer the questions as to what can be done by when.”

Addressing specifically the investigation of Wilson’s accident, Miles said, “It reinforces the risks, I think, of the open cockpit and further energizes efforts in motorsport to try to reduce those risks.”

But devising a cockpit or canopy – if either is adopted – will take considerable development and testing time. Miles said he’s had lengthy discussions with officials from groups such as NASA and the aerospace industry that provide cockpits for entities such as jet fighters.

He added that Formula 1 officials have also been studying enclosed cockpits for quite some time, particularly things such as ingress/egress from within the cockpit, as well as heat buildup inside.

“Obviously, the foundational point is whether there’s a solution which protects the driver and there may be no solution which provides complete protection if you get into a situation like in Las Vegas (where driver Dan Wheldon died as a result of head injuries when he stuck a catch fence support),” Miles said. “But it’s how much more safe can you make it while proving for not having unintended consequences.”

Miles said that in addition to canopies and enclosed cockpits, IndyCar is also looking at other variations and the potential risk vs. rewards of those as well.

“This is not necessarily about a completely closed cockpit,” Miles said. “It could be more of an apron. If something hits that … it’s possible (the object) could be propelled higher and further and an unintended consequence could be the risk of something going into the crowd.

“It doesn’t necessarily knock it down and put it on the track if something was coming at a car like that, especially something like a tire that has energy in it.

“What is clear to me is we’ve got an outside perspective as do our safety people, on the long list of things you have to address. … Hopefully something meaningful can happen.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Luca Filippi

Josef Newgarden, Luca Filippi
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, in 2015. Luca Filippi ended 21st in the No. 20 car, running the road and street course races for CFH Racing.

Luca Filippi, No. 20 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 28th Place, 4 starts
  • 2015: 21st Place (10 starts), Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 6th, 1 Podium, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 2 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 13.9 Avg. Finish

After part-time runs with Bryan Herta Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2013 and 2014, likable Italian Luca Filippi finally got his first full part-time season as the road and street course replacement at CFH Racing, replacing Mike Conway. Having won twice last year, Conway left some decently big shoes to fill and Filippi did a fair job throughout the year more often than not.

Filippi had a slightly better grid position average than did Conway, 12.4 to 13, and was slightly better overall in the races. In 10 races (including one with double points), Filippi scored 182 points and four top-10 finishes (including one top-five). A year ago, Conway scored 252 points from 12 starts, but only two top-10 finishes (both were wins). Broken down, Conway averaged 21 points per race (about a 10th place result) and Filippi 18.2 (about 12th).

Thing was last year, Conway didn’t have a measuring stick as ECR was a single-car team. In the combined two-car CFH Racing organization, Filippi had Josef Newgarden as a teammate, and that provided a more accurate measuring stick. In their 10 races together, Newgarden finished ahead 7-3, and also qualified ahead 7-3.

Filippi felt more comfortable as the year progressed – keep in mind this was the first time he’d seen most of the tracks – and at places like Toronto and Mid-Ohio where had had past track experience, he shone brightest. It was no coincidence his lone Firestone Fast Six appearance and first career podium came at Toronto, and at Mid-Ohio he was also very quick but caught out by strategy in the race.

During the year, Filippi also had two other key moments of note, one personal and one professional. He became a dad prior to Mid-Ohio, and was embracing his newborn shortly after the race not long after. Professionally speaking, he made his oval test debut at Iowa, which was important to note in case CFH wants to continue on with him next year, as seems possible. It was a good year that planted the seed for further success in the future, provided he continues in North America.