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Head2Head: Are Johnson's comments cause for concern?

July 18, 2011, , NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson should have been beaming after a fifth-place finish despite problems in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday. However, he had plenty to say following the race when he spoke to Dustin Long of SI.com.

"Certainly our problems start on Friday with not qualifying right. We've got to figure that out," Johnson said. "There's a pit call to call wrong that happens. When it's key times for stops, we have mistakes. I've been real patient all year trying to build. I'm running out of patience. I care for these guys deeply for going over the wall and I know they're very talented guys, but we're getting into my livelihood in a little bit when we get into this Chase and we've got to be right. Thankfully we've got an off week and we can work on some stuff and try to figure out a solution.''

Are Jimmie Johnson's comments cause for concern?

YES NO

It's pretty hard to find many faults with a five-time NASCAR champion who is sitting second in the points and coming off back-to-back top-five finishes. But something's not right in the Jimmie Johnson camp.

Johnson admitted he lost track of how many laps were left at Kentucky, which may have been just a minor oversight on his or his spotter's part. But for a driver who is as focused as Johnson has shown he can be, it seemed completely out of character.

Ever since crew chief Chad Knaus made a wholesale swap of over-the-wall guys in the middle of the race at Texas last fall, it's been an issue of constant concern for the team. Whether spoken about publicly or just hinted at, the decision to re-evaluate Johnson's crew every week seems to have made things worse, not better.

And that came to a head Sunday at Loudon, when Johnson's frustrations spilled out in his post-race interview, when he said, "We can't have these mistakes anymore. We are way too close to the Chase, and we need to be right."

Nobody's perfect, and we've seen the No. 48 team struggle at times in the past. But the feeling of invincibility that Johnson has shown the past five years is gone -- and there's no reason to think it'll suddenly return when the Chase begins.

Mark Aumann, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Jimmie Johnson has proven to be the master of the mind game in the past five years during which he has dominated the Sprint Cup Series. His words of frustration following Sunday's race at New Hampshire should be seen as motivation rather than cracks in the foundation of a championship-caliber team.

Johnson said he's tired of qualifying poorly. He should be. He said his pit crew has to get better. It does. He said having to constantly work his way through the field affects his performance. It does.

This isn't a Denny Hamlin situation, like when he openly questions his crew chief and calls out his pit crew publicly for specific mistakes.

This is a five-time champ hoping to spur those around him to the kind of performance needed. To question his methods generally is going to be a losing proposition.

Am I guaranteeing Johnson's going to make it six consecutive? Hardly. Carl Edwards, the Busch brothers and Kevin Harvick, among others, have something to say about that.

But I'm also not ready to say this is an off-the-cuff comment. Johnson isn't one to just go off, which makes me believe it's a calculated move. And more times than not in the past five years, those have worked out well for him.

Just ask Hamlin.

Jill Erwin, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Crew issues have been ongoing for Johnson as he chases his sixth consecutive Cup Series title. So should there be concern about the 48 team's chances to win yet another Cup? Or is this just a driver blowing off steam and trying to spur his team on? Mark Aumann and Jill Erwin have their thoughts. Read theirs and weigh in with your own in the comments below. And don't forget to vote in the poll at the right.

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