Every champion will have their challenging time where their backs will be against the wall and the opportunity for them to strive under those conditions are presented in perhaps the biggest stages for them at each venue. Physical and mental strength will be tested and the chemistry within that team are put to extremes. However, if there's a driver and team that can strive under the most pressure packed situation in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it's Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's Racing Chevrolet SS group led by crew chief Chad Knaus. With six Cup titles and 66 race wins since 2002, they are the standard which other teams measure themselves against in terms of excellence and more times than not, it's their spoiler that the competition winds up following when the checkered flag is waved at any given track on the circuit.
While it's not been the strongest of starts to a season for this strong collective, they've been in striking distance of reeling off that first win of 2014. A runner-up at Martinsville indicated the kind of strength that this team had when all the cards would be nearly in their favor, just falling short of the win when Kurt Busch asserted himself to the front of the pack. Perhaps their most impressive performance was at Darlington a few weeks afterwards, when they rallied from a 26th starting spot and came home in third position, showcasing the qualities that have made them a six-time Cup champion at the track dubbed "Too Tough To Tame." Those have been some of the good moments in this young season.
As for the struggles that Johnson, Knaus, and his Hendrick Motorsports crew have endured thus far, including a 19th at Bristol, 24th at Fontana, and 32nd at Richmond, plagued by tire issues, as well as a 23rd at Talladega, marred by a few late race accidents. At times, the chemistry between Johnson and Knaus have been tested to the point that some critics are surmising that this is a sign of dissension or that the 48 team has lost their winning ways. If that is true, then it's time to count out this bunch out of the Chase and hunt for this year's Sprint Cup title, right? Most of all, the question is - is something wrong with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team?
Think again - this is the team that's won six Cup titles all within a eight year window, with only Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski interrupting Johnson and the No. 48 team's otherwise dynastic run in NASCAR. Their five straight titles from 2006-'10 is astonishing in itself, considering that legends like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, and Richard Petty have only reeled off two championships in a row, at most, when they've won their trophies.
Considering that the team has seen a few changes overall since their rookie campaign in 2002, it's quite amazing that Johnson and Knaus have been that 1-2 combination over the years. If anything, those moments where they may not be agreeing with each other are experiences that any of the Cup teams endure, but it is greatly magnified because it's coming from the top Cup team and it's because of that big goose egg under the win column.
That being said, the Cup tour finds themselves at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600, a race which Johnson and his No. 48 crew have won on three occasions (2003-'05). Their wins in this event and at this facility are why NASCAR peers often call this Concord, NC track as "Jimmie's House." Overall, they have six victories at this 1.5-mile quad-oval and it wouldn't be foolhardy to consider them as one of the favorites for the longest race on the Cup schedule. If there's ever a place and a time for Johnson to turn his season around, as he currently sits seventh in the standings, it's at CMS and a fourth 600 win is certainly not out of the question.
With all the vast resources, some of the greatest minds in the organization and team, and with one of NASCAR's future Hall of Fame drivers behind the wheel, when they're clicking on even nearly every cylinder, they are better than most on the track. Simply put, this is a team and collective that is far too talented to keep on digging and not wind up in the winner's circle.
Once they hit their stride, they're virtually unstoppable and they'll be like a train running on the high speed rail tracks from town to town, but they'll be delivering winning moments. Sooner or later, we'll see NASCAR's favorite bearded driver back in the high life and like in those Lowe's commercials we've come to see on race day, we can say, "He's Jimmie Johnson. Boom. Confetti!"