The Cool Down Lap: For Johnson, winning is the ticket to titles
By: By Reid Spencer, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
What’s a win worth?
Ask Jimmie Johnson. He’s the expert.
Since NASCAR introduced the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2004, Johnson has won a statistically improbable 19 of the aggregate 62 Chase races, the most recent coming Sunday at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson has won 30.6 percent of his starts in the Chase. In non-Chase races, Johnson has won 34 times in 257 starts, a winning percentage of 13.2 percent.
In the Chase, Johnson and his No. 48 team more their double the frequency of their trips to victory lane. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus figured out long ago the key to winning Chases is winning races.
Not only have they identified the most efficient strategy, but they also have done something much more difficult. They’ve carried it out.
Sunday’s race brought home the value of winning in an emphatic, unmistakable way. After an uncharacteristically sloppy 25th-place finish a week earlier at New Hampshire, Johnson was seventh in the standings, 92 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin.
At Dover, however, Johnson led the most laps and won the race, jumped to second in the standings and knocked 57 points off Hamlin’s lead. Though Johnson’s average finish through two races is 13.0—far off the pace necessary to win a title—he’s only 35 points behind Hamlin, who finished second at Loudon and ninth at Dover for an average finish of 5.5.
The math is simple. A race winner is guaranteed 190 points (including the five-point bonus for leading a lap), with another five points available for leading the most laps. Accordingly, a dominating win, the likes of which Johnson orchestrated Sunday, can go a long way toward canceling mistakes in earlier races.
Hamlin is aware of the formula. The difference is that he and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team haven’t been able to implement it yet.
“We’re not going to keep those guys from winning—they’re going to,” Hamlin said after Sunday’s race. “They’re going to win. That’s the characteristic of that team. Anytime they’re faced with adversity, they come and make a strong statement. That’s been their M.O. for a long time.
“To me, it’s not that alarming, and I won’t be too alarmed by it.”
Nevertheless, it’s evident Hamlin and Johnson entered the Chase with different mind-sets. Hamlin had a series of goals with respect to where he hoped to stand after each race. Johnson prefers to add up the points after each event.
“I’m not so concerned with statements,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, I’m just concerned with where I am in the points, what the deficit is—if we’re fortunate to get on top, how big that gap is, what we need to do to be champions. A lot of that other stuff, if it’s in your brain, you’re not thinking about the right thing.
“We want to win this championship. We want to win five in a row. It’s within our race shop. These guys on the 48 team, we need to buckle down, get better in some areas. (Sunday) we did win, but we need to be stronger moving forward. We’ve got to go home and get better.”
And they have to win more races. That’s part of the formula Johnson and Knaus are all so familiar with.
And it’s something Hamlin and the No. 11 team will have to accept and execute if they want to become the next Sprint Cup champions.