Has Jimmie Johnson's unprecedented run of NASCAR Sprint Cup domination run its course? The four-time defending series champ hasn't won a race since Bristol in March, after winning three of the season's first five events, and was involved in a heavy wreck last week at Darlington. While aware that success is inevitably cyclical, Johnson says he isn't worried about his Hendrick Motorsport squad, despite some signs of tension lately between Johnson and longtime crew chief Chad Knaus (shown above).
“Last weekend, I was in four wrecks before the fourth one finally took me out of commission and we were done. It was just a wild night and I know [Kevin] Harvick joked around at California that we have a horseshoe implanted in a certain area. That horseshoe fell out before that race started Sunday last week, because I've never been in four wrecks and then have a guy with no brakes [AJ Allmendinger] come and T-bone me from the side!
“It changes – we've been saying this all along with the 48 car being at the top of its game, this stuff doesn't last forever. The garage area gets smarter, teams, drivers and everyone is developing and trying to make their equipment faster and better.
“We're not where we want to be right now. We're still very competitive, but we have a little work to do. There's nothing wrong with that. Where we're sitting now, second in the points, is far better than some seasons that we've gotten off to. There's still a lot of racing left and it will be fun.”
Johnson added that evident tension on the radio lately between himself and crew chief Knaus is nothing to get excited about.
“It's just part of it. People who have listened to the 48 over the years know that there are heated moments and that is just part of any race team. Certainly the 48, we're not immune to the emotion that takes place during the course of a race. It's the same stuff and I think we're doing a much better job at dealing with adversity this year, in general, than we have from the start of our career and even last year. We make it colorful from time to time.”
Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton says that the loud cheers from the grandstands following Johnson's Darlington wreck were a sign of the ambivalence a dominating driver always creates among the fans.
“I don't care what sport you're in. People love to see the big dog go down," Burton said. “And the people who love him, don't. He's one of those guys, because of their success, that no one sits on the fence [about] for long. You don't kinda like Jimmie Johnson. You either really like him or you don't like him at all, because of the success he's had. He hasn't done anything wrong. He hasn't done anything to incite people to not want him to do well. His success has done that. So when he does badly, there's a group of people who are going to cheer and when he does great there are people who are going to cheer.”
Burton added that the apparent decline of the Hendrick team's advantage was a mixed bag for the sport.
“It's good for us!” he laughed. “I think that parity is a great thing. By the same token, I believe that having someone to knock off is a good thing with the sport, too. Someone needs to be the top good guy and someone needs to be the one everybody is shooting for. When you have too much parity, then it almost makes it hard to know who to pull for and who to pull against. So part of our sport is as much about pulling against somebody as it is pulling for somebody.”