They started off the season by taking home a win in the biggest race of the season. They followed that up with a second place finish in Phoenix and then a sixth place finish at Las Vegas. Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the Lowes No. 48 team have already begun to prove that they are going to be the team to beat, and we are only heading into the fourth race of the season.
After barely missing out on his 6th championship last season, everyone in the racing industry knew that Johnson, Knaus and their crew were going to be fighting harder than ever to not let that happen again. With Johnson’s recent luck at Super Speedways, it was quite a shock to see him win the Daytona 500; his first with Crew Chief Knaus. He had the highest running average out on the track: 5.0. The only one who came close to that was pole sitter Danica Patrick. After a disappointing end in Homestead-Miami in 2012, it didn’t come as a surprise to see the No.48 team well ahead of everyone else in the new Gen.6 car.
During Daytona Winter Testing and even Speedweeks, Johnson was the only car to NOT run in the draft. He had absolutely no drafting practice in the new car until he took to the track for the Duels (he wrecked out early in the Sprint Unlimited). Many drivers and fans thought he was foolish for not getting out there and testing the limits of the new car, but for Johnson, his reasoning was simple: he didn’t want to ruin a great racecar. This is why he and Knaus are 5-Time Champions.
Johnson went from a win in Daytona to a runner-up finish in Phoenix. He chased race winner Carl Edwards for the final 70 laps but just couldn’t close the deal. Johnson also partnered with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and drove the No. 5 Great Clips Chevy for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series race. It was his first Nationwide Series start since 2011. The reasoning behind this decision was simple: more track time. Since its reconfiguration, Johnson hasn’t performed as well as he would like to at Phoenix. He finished 12th in the Nationwide race and all of that extra track time ultimately paid off. Look for Johnson to make a run for the win when they return in November.
Las Vegas was no different. Although he didn’t finish in the top-5, Johnson still had an impressive showing in Sin City. Johnson led 66 laps during the Kobalt Tools 400 and looked like he might just take his Kobalt sponsored Chevy to Victory Lane once again. Johnson didn’t fall out of the top-5 until the closing laps of the race after a few late cautions caused him to fall just outside the top-5. Matt Kenseth went on to win followed closely by Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne: Johnson finished 6th.
Can Jimmie Johnson’s top-10 streak continue at Bristol this weekend? It’s definitely possible, but not entirely likely. Bristol ranks in the bottom four tracks for Johnson in NASCAR’s driver rating system but he has performed well there lately. His last win was in 2010 and he has recorded a few top-10 finishes since. While Bristol might be a bit of a challenge for the No. 48 team, don’t look for Johnson to be slowing down at all. He is more than ready for that 6-pack of Championships and if his season ends anything like it’s starting, I can see him holding up that shiny Sprint Cup Series trophy in Homestead-Miami.