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

Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter