With win in hand, Johnson may not stop anytime soon
May 27, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
With great pleasure the reigning champ turned the tables on the racing media late Sunday night after celebrating in Charlotte Motor Speedway's Victory Lane as the winningest driver (seven) in the storied track's history -- and the newest victory-qualified driver for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the Chase Grid currently stands.
"What the hell are you all going to write about now? We won," Johnson said to reporters before taking questions.
He was smiling, but he was only half-joking.
The only thing more rare for Johnson than going this long into the season before scoring his first victory is for Johnson having to face tough, relentless questions about when he was going to win.
And the first one he got Sunday was tongue-in-cheek on whether he had trouble finding Victory Lane since it had been "so long."
"Twelve long races," Johnson said, smiling. "I guess we've created this environment for ourselves. I honestly wasn't stressing. The fact that 12 races created that much buzz just means we've done a lot of great things over the years, so I'll turn it into a compliment."
Typical Jimmie. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more upbeat presence in the garage. Of course, as he alluded, life is good when a 12-race winless streak is enough to send your fans and the racing media into near panic mode on your behalf.
This is a team sometimes chided for winning too much, so 12 weeks of "almost" was unfamiliar territory.
But this is Jimmie Johnson -- "Six-Time" -- and you don't earn that nickname because you can't handle pressure, real or perceived.
He wasn't as aggravated about not winning as he was annoyed with everyone else's harping about him not winning. He came to expect the questions in his weekly press conferences at the track, recently raising the subject himself before reporters could even ask.
Even before he won the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night, he was among the drivers eligible for the Chase based on points collected -- a statistic of which he politely reminded people in the last few weeks.
"More than anything, I just got tired of answering the question," Johnson said. "There wasn't a lot of frustration due to the pressure of winning. There was frustration in not having fast race cars, but that's a different situation. In my opinion, I don't believe there will be 16 different winners. I feel like a strong championship points position would get us into the first phase of the Chase.
"Granted, (the win) simplifies things. … We really want to heat up and win races later in the season, especially before the Chase starts."
He's got to like his chances again in Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway. Johnson's eight wins at the Monster Mile are the most in track history, and his 2,704 laps led in the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet are most among active drivers. His average finish in 24 starts is an astounding 8.7.
He nearly swept the series' two stops at Dover last season, winning there during the Chase and being in position to win last June. Instead, he was black-flagged for jumping a restart with 19 laps remaining and ended up a frustrating 17th place.
If he doesn't win Sunday at Dover there's always summer stops at Pocono or Daytona, both venues where he's won three times and is the defending race winner. And there's always Indianapolis, where Johnson is a pause-worthy four-time winner.
In Johnson's case, there is not a particular time of year when he is most dangerous, not just one particular track he "owns." Johnson has been so consistent, so superior across the board.
So as pundits pondered and critics considered the chance of a chink in the armor, Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus put their heads down and kept at it. Glancing at the 66 previous race trophies and huge, golden Sprint Cup championship trophies they had won together certainly had to reassure.
"What they've been able to accomplish together, it's been amazing" team owner Rick Hendrick said of the pair. "I always say, I'm just glad I don't have to race against them. ... The thing that amazes me the most is they are always digging to be better."
Which raises the better point to contemplate: It isn't so much whether Johnson will win again or how many weeks will go by between victories, but instead how many races he wins and championships he'll claim before he stops.