Chase Capsules: Jimmie Johnson

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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

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.