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.”
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