Despite rocky finish, Five-Time's 2012 season leaves plenty to build on for 2013
That his car was in the garage undergoing repairs almost as soon as the year began, and again as it was coming to a close, should tell you all you need to know about Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 season.
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Fortunately for the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Although Johnson posted a whopping six DNFs (Did Not Finish) this past season, on the whole he enjoyed the type of year that helped him rule the sport from 2006-2010. His five-win total tied for most in the series while his 18 top-fives and 24 top-10s were the most of any driver. His title chances weren’t completely extinguished until a problem underneath the No. 48 Chevrolet sent him to the garage after 226 laps of the 267-lap, season-ending race in Homestead.
It’s little wonder, then, that Johnson says he wasn’t ready for the season to end, and can’t wait for the 2013 season to get under way.
While he says “everyone is in the same boat” where challenges of the new Generation-6 vehicle are concerned, as well as any subsequent rule changes, “we’ll be able to … get prepared faster than most,” he said.
Such was the case in 2007 when NASCAR began phasing in the Car of Tomorrow. Hendrick teams were ahead of the curve thanks in large part to a dedicated research and development program, and the result was nine wins for the organization, including five for Johnson, in the 16 COT races on that year’s schedule.
“Where we are most concerned is if we get into the season and we start crashing cars, especially … downforce cars," Johnson said. "There are a lot of mile-and-a-halves at the start of the season and you can be out of inventory pretty quick. ... But if there is any company that can deal with it, it will be ours. I feel like we’re in a good position.”
For Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, avoiding trouble on restrictor-plate tracks (where he suffered half of his DFNs last year) will be crucial. The team’s 1.5-mile and short track program remains more than adequate. From a personnel standpoint, two engineers have departed, including lead engineer Greg Ives.
Ives, who worked alongside Knaus during all five of the team’s championships, is now crew chief for Regan Smith at JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.
Johnson will open the season with a bit of a milestone: the Daytona 500 will be his 400th career start in the Cup series. It’s been two years now since his last championship, and, while that might not seem to be a big deal, when you win five in a row, not winning generates a bit of attention. However, the 2012 season wasn’t bad in spite of the final outcome, according to Johnson.
Earning the 200th career victory for Hendrick Motorsports, collecting his fourth Brickyard 400 title and contending for the Chase stand out, he said, adding that “there was some really cool energy floating around the walls of that 48 shop."
“It turned out to be far different than what we wanted,” he said “… We had a lot of speed and a lot to be proud of … so there were a lot of high spots.”
See the full schedule of our top 12 Sprint Cup Series drivers and read more below:
11. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
9. Tony Stewart
7. Matt Kenseth
6. Denny Hamlin
5. Greg Biffle
4. Kasey Kahne
2. Clint Bowyer