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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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”