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

5 Comments

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

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
0 Comments

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)