Entering this season, you would have to think that there is little left for Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus to achieve. After all, they are coming off their fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title and have some of the biggest wins on the schedules with trips to victory lane being made both at the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.
Johnson entered this season with 47 victories in the series and quickly moved that total to 50 by winning three of the first five races of the season at California, Las Vegas and Bristol. It seemed as if Johnson’s Lowe’s team was going to run away with the point chase leading up to the Chase for the Championship with 10 races to go, but then the unheard of in the sport began to happen. After posting his third win at Bristol on March 20, his fortunes began to turn in a direction that seemed directly opposite of victory lane.
After celebrating his first-ever win at Bristol Motor Speedway, the team was able to notch only one top-15 finish over the next five races. Johnson and his team suddenly weren’t being the benefactor of caution flags, instead they were oftentimes involved in the crash that forced the yellow to wave. There were also a few errors made by both the team and crew and suddenly there were stories that maybe the team was in a slump or worse yet, they had just run out of that good ol’ racing luck.
The team had hit its first real bad stretch of races in over four years and, as you would expect under the guidance of Johnson and Knaus, the team just kept doing what they do better than any other team in the sport — prepare for the next race. The last two races leading up to Infineon Raceway ended with a couple of top-10 finishes. They were not the wins that the team wanted, but it did show that they had fought their way back through their tough stretch and were once again ready to start racing for wins.
Sunday’s race at Infineon would be one of the few stops on the schedule where Johnson wouldn’t be considered one of the favorites to make a trip to victory lane. His 50 wins he took with him to the West Coast didn’t include one that was made on a road course. Of course, Johnson and Knaus are notorious for making goals at the beginning of each season and as it turned out winning on one of the two road courses that make up the schedule was one of them.
Johnson’s teammate and part car owner at Hendrick Motor Sports, Jeff Gordon, is the all time series leader in wins on a road course with nine, but recent history has found HMS struggle with all four of its teams anytime the schedule stops at the road courses of either Infineon or Watkins Glen. The organization had built new cars for the demanding righthand and left-hand turns of a road course during this past off -season, and had spent several test sessions at road courses. All of the preparations paid off as Johnson notched his first-ever road course win and Gordon came home fifth.
The win now leaves only four tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson has yet to post a win. Chicagoland, Homestead- Miami, Michigan and Watkins Glen are no doubt in his sights and only Johnson and Knaus know if any of the four are on their goal list for the rest of the season. One goal for sure that is still on that list is a fifth consecutive championship and, after leaving California in second place with four wins, there is little doubt that it’s another goal that can be easily achieved.
Ford won its first race of the year in the Nationwide Series on Saturday when Carl Edwards won the Bucyrus 200 at Road America in Wisconsin. On the Cup side, Ford saw its winless streak stretch to 16 races this season. Kasey Kahne was the highest finishing blue oval driver as he finished fourth at Infineon. 1983 was the last season in which Ford had such a struggle to begin the season. That year Ford wasn’t able to make a trip to victory lane until the 16th race of the season when Buddy Baker won the Firecracker 400.
Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Track:
New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058-miles, 2-7 degrees of variable banking in the turns). Date:
June 27, 1 p.m. TV: