Points lead provides baby buffer for Johnson
June 10, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
LONG POND, Pa. -- Following his dominant victory Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Jimmie Johnson now enjoys his largest points lead of the season -- a whopping 51 over second-place Carl Edwards. The five-time champion is well aware that most or all of that advantage could disappear when points are reset prior to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But Johnson’s big lead may help in another, very different area -- enabling him to relax a little as he and wife Chandra near the birth of their second child, a girl due in September. The final event of NASCAR’s regular season, which finalizes the playoff field, is set for Richmond on Sept. 7.
"My selfish motivation for that (points lead), if Chani goes into labor early, I don't have to worry about Richmond, honestly. "
Johnson wants to build as big a lead as he can, so he has the option of skipping the Richmond event in case his wife gives birth early or other unexpected issues arise. His current 51-point margin already exceeds the number of points one driver can gain on another in a single event, and 13 more races still remain until the Chase field is determined. His advantage over Edwards entering the day had been 30 points.
“Awesome,” said Johnson, who now has three wins, knotting him with Matt Kenseth for most in that category. “I knew we stretched it. I didn't know it would be that much, so that's great. My selfish motivation for that, if Chani goes into labor early, I don't have to worry about Richmond, honestly. That is what I'm working so hard for. I always work hard anyway, but it sure takes some pressure off if we lock early and don't have to worry about Richmond.”
Johnson’s daughter Genevieve will turn 3 next month. The drivers in the Chase will be seeded based on race victories prior to the Sept. 15 opener in Joliet, Ill., but in the meantime, the No. 48 team will take all the points it can get -- for reasons professional as well as personal.
“As far as points go, it's always important,” said Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus. “We've got some very tricky race tracks coming up, we've got road courses, we've got Michigan -- which is very hard for us for some reason -- and we want to make sure that we get as many points accumulated as we possibly can so that if Chani does have a problem around Richmond time, we can all relax a little bit and make sure everything is OK.”
Although Johnson had Aric Almirola available as a standby driver during the latter stages of his wife’s first pregnancy in 2010, Genevieve was born on a Wednesday, and her father did not skip a race. Johnson has not missed an event since beginning his full-time Sprint Cup career, to date competing in 412 straight since his second start, which came in the penultimate event of the 2001 campaign.
Meanwhile, there’s the other matter of trying to win a sixth championship, and toward that end, he believes stockpiling points continues to provide a snapshot as to how well his team is running -- even if many of those points may ultimately be wiped away when the championship field is reset.
“It's something we pay close attention to,” Johnson said. Rivals like Edwards and reigning champion Brad Keselowski “are the guys that I've got a close eye on right now, and just trying to make sure we're putting points on them. If we're doing that we're doing our job. Even though the gap might change and look more dramatic at the top right now, we've got to keep a good eye on the past five races, past 10 races, to be sure we're the ones earning the most points.”