Making the Grade: A Preview of the Probable 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Top 12 (Part 11 of 12)
One, two, three, four, five, everybody at HMS, c'mon, let Jimmie drive, he can win about 60 Cup races in a 12 year span and he can put it on overdrive if you really want to let him....
OK, so that wasn't the best attempt at parodying "Mambo No. 5," but it's a good way to highlight the amazing accomplishments of Jimmie Johnson aka Darth Vader from our good friends at Yahoo! Sports (Jay Busbee, of course).
Then again, he's almost been ruthless in demoralizing his competitors since 2006, constantly winning a bunch of races (only in 2011 did he win just twice, the only instance that's happened since 2002 and '03 with three victories) and hoisting NASCAR Sprint Cup championships like it's a yearly obligation or like Hedley and Marianas Trench playing frequently on radio stations from our neighbors (neighbours, excuse me) to our north.
At least since 2006, critics have pondered if the success of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevy team is all because of the driver (who's a very good talented one by the way) or all because of crew chief Chad Knaus, who's known to push the envelope to the point of dealing with penalties from the NASCAR governing body.
Truth be told, it's because of everyone on that team, who's dedicated to winning, regardless of the outcome. They're never content with where they are and when they don't win, they work even harder to make things right.
When they reeled off titles in an almost John Force-fashion in the mid to late 2000's, they never rested on their laurels. Instead, they went through every offseason improving on aspects of their organization, whether it was finding that extra bit of horsepower, massaging the bodies of their cars, or whipping into fantastic physical shape. Like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers, their commitment to excellence is second to none in NASCAR racing.
Last year was a near success story for Johnson and Knaus, falling short because of a few bad races down the stretch at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. Otherwise, it was statistically their strongest season since 2007, winning five races, nabbing 18 top-fives and scoring 24 top-10 runs en route to a third place points finish.
Perhaps the biggest gremlin with this group is consistency. It just seems like at some point in the season, they hit a swoon that forces this team to regroup to remain in the hunt before the Chase. Wait - is that truly a weakness with this team?
This tactic has been used since 2006, where it seems like they'll experiment, sometimes winning and sometimes looking lost on the track during the first 26 races. Once the Chase strikes, that's when they'll suddenly pounce and attack like a tiger going after its prey. There's very little mercy from this team when the title is on the line and when the implications and results take on more significance in the last 10 events.
While it's tried and tested (perhaps not mother approved), it's perhaps not worked as well in the past few years. Other teams have seemed taken to this approach and it's translated into titles for the two most recent Cup champions in Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski. Playing the sleeping giant early on, both drivers woke up and devoured their competition, almost thinking it was "All You Can Eat Pancake Day" at their local iHop.
Can Johnson and Knaus rediscover their winning ways? Of course, as they showed that willingness to make it happen last year, especially in the Kansas fall race when a hard crash midway in the race didn't stop them from coming home in ninth spot. Their car wasn't even in 100 percent shape and yet, they were able to mount a comeback in that race.
About the only thing that this No. 48 team should do differently in 2013 to make the title theirs again is to maintain consistency and hit their stride earlier rather than later. Once that happens, they'll most certainly hoist the Cup trophy again.
However, seeing as they're projected to be this year's runner-up, it means one thing (obviously). Someone's going to beat him and the rest of this year's talented driver and crew chief lineup. Who might that driver be?
If you're looking for a hint, here's a few: he's won a rookie award and seems to be the apple of many women's eyes off the track and with an insurance company.
Whoops, that was obvious.