48 – Jimmie Johnson
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships: 6 (2006-’10, 2013)
Chase History: 11th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 1st (2006-‘10, 2013)
Regular Season Recap: The regular season for JJ? Your typical “He hasn’t won yet!” through the first 11 races angst, followed by “Were we really just talking about the 48 being winless?” after three wins in the next four races, and capped off with “It’s the 48’s annual pre-Chase four-race slump!” with finishes of 42nd, 42nd, 14th, 39th and 28th from Daytona through Watkins Glen. What does it all mean? Not much has changed, and Johnson and Knaus continue as the most effective partnership heading into the Chase. His Dover win was his most dominant performance; Martinsville was also a Johnson tour de force before ending second behind Kurt Busch. Wins in the Chase at those two tracks will be his 10th and ninth, respectively.
Chris’ Take: Johnson, Chad Knaus and the 48 camp always seem to run like clockwork when everything is on the line. They can win pretty much anywhere in the Chase, and even if they don’t win, they’re capable of being front-runners all the way through. And you don’t expect them to have self-inflicted problems, so that just leaves Johnson having to keep his nose clean on the track. If he does that, there’s no reason why he can’t be in the Championship at Homestead-Miami.
Jerry’s Take: It’s hard to put Jimmie Johnson and “flying under the radar” in the same sentence, but that sure seems to be the case with the six-time champ in 2014. Sure, he’s won three races, but he really hasn’t had the kind of standout season to date that he typically has. Is he holding back or sandbagging? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have to significantly pick up their game in the Chase.
While they’ve found a way to do that in six of the last eight seasons, this year could be the hardest title bid for the duo, as there are four more drivers to contend with and a reinvigorated Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. While we see Johnson reaching the final four, we do not see six-time becoming seven-time after Homestead.
Tony’s Take: The only thing that prevents Johnson from making it through the knockout stages of the 2014 Chase is the No. 48 team themselves, with bad pit stops or getting caught up in someone else’s misfortune. Although he hasn’t won at Chicago before, he still has been consistent, with 10 top-10s in 12 starts there. New Hampshire is a good track for the team and Dover, as mentioned, is one of his best.
A solid run of top-10s through those three should move him forward, and from there he can pounce. The new Chase format, in part, was designed to prevent one driver walking away from the field in the Chase races, but it remains hard to bet against Johnson and the No. 48 crew, whatever the format is. Should be advancing fairly deep once more.
Jimmie Johnson’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – No wins, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10s in 12 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – Three wins, 9 Top-5s, 17 Top-10s in 25 starts
Dover (1 mile) – Nine wins, 13 Top-5s, 18 Top-10s in 25 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – Two wins, 6 Top-5, 14 Top-10s in 16 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – Seven wins, 13 Top-5s, 17 Top-10s in 26 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – Two wins, 6 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 25 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – Eight wins, 18 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s in 25 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – Three wins, 10 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s in 22 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – Four wins, 14 Top-5s, 18 Top-10s in 22 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – No wins, 4 Top-5, 8 Top-10s in 13 starts