Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 9 – Jimmie Johnson falls short of seventh championship

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MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we’re at No. 9 — Jimmie Johnson goes from consideration as the Greatest Driver of All-Time to the worst single-season finish in his career. …

When Jimmie Johnson ended the 2013 season with his sixth Sprint Cup championship, numerous media members and fans began calling him the G.O.A.T.

As in the Greatest Of All Time driver.

With the way he won his sixth Cup crown in eight seasons, it seemed almost like a given that Johnson would win No. 7 in 2014, thus tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships won by a driver.

So many folks seemed to be convinced Johnson would breeze through the season – even with the new Elimination-style format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup – that they half in jest (or seriously, depending upon your perspective) suggested that NASCAR scrap the season because Johnson was going to win the championship anyway.

But as it turned out, Johnson did not win the championship.

In fact, he wasn’t really much of a factor in the championship. Why, he didn’t even advance past the Competitor’s Round and into the Eliminator Round.

Even worse, he recorded the worst single-season finish of his career, 11th place.

What happened?

There’s really no right or wrong answer. It was simply not in the cards for Johnson to win the title in 2014 – much like it wasn’t in the cards in 2011 when Tony Stewart won, or 2012 when Brad Keselowski won.

It’s not like Johnson forgot how to race. Remember, he won three races in 2014, and had it not been for mistakes, mishaps or simply coming up short, he probably could have won at least two or three more.

Some speculate that Johnson and his No. 48 team just didn’t have the intangibles that they had during their six prior championship-winning seasons. But trying to figure out what those intangibles were is equally a mystery as to why Johnson ultimately faltered in his quest for No. 7.

You really can’t point at any one thing. The motivation was there, all the key players – including crew chief Chad Knaus and his veteran pit crew – were all there.

Johnson didn’t change either. If anything, he became a stronger individual – both literally and physically – as he increased his physical training for things such as marathons, triathlons and more. It would be hard not to say Johnson wasn’t in the best shape of his life in 2014, so it wasn’t a matter of fatigue or lack of endurance.

Honestly, boil it all down and Johnson’s failure to win a seventh championship and coming up short essentially winds up with one conclusion:

It just wasn’t his year, plain and simple.

That doesn’t mean 2015 will be his year once again. He may go through another season that’s overall good, but not great like his championship-winning campaigns.

Racing in general — and NASCAR in particular — is a very cyclical business. Some seasons are better than others, obviously. Many of us may have gotten spoiled by all of Johnson’s championships, including the five in a row from 2006 through 2010, one of the greatest achievements in all sports history.

Johnson knew he was in trouble in this year’s Chase when he started off the Contender Round with a 40th place finish at Kansas. He followed that up with a 17th place finish at Charlotte, but saw his hopes of advancing to the Elimination Round come to a screeching halt with a 24th place finish in the final Contender Round race (at Talladega).

Ironically enough, Johnson led nearly half (84) of the 194 laps in that ‘Dega race before falling back to the eventual showing he had.

In the end, like I said earlier, it just wasn’t Johnson’s year.

Now, 2015, that could be a whole different story. Maybe it all comes down to Knaus. He figured out a way for Johnson to win his six championships and maximize his advantage during the Chase.

If Knaus can work is magic again in the new elimination format, a few years from now we may be talking about Johnson not only winning a seventh championship, but maybe eight, nine or even 10 titles before his career is over.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images