Commentary

Don't worry about Jimmie Johnson

Updated: May 10, 2014, 2:30 PM ET
By Joe Breeze | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Is it too early to panic? Too early for Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus to wonder whether they've lost their championship mojo?

Of course it is.

But we can have some fun speculating, can't we?

We're 10 races into the 2014 Sprint Cup season. We've had eight different winners, including a pair of surprising two-time victors: Kevin Harvick, who is driving for new team Stewart-Haas Racing, and Joey Logano … JOEY LOGANO!

[+] EnlargeChad Knaus
Jerry Markland/Getty ImagesJJ on crew chief Chad Knaus, above: "Chad isn't happy unless we are winning races -- we all know that. He certainly has had some sleepless nights."

Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch also have victories, all but ensuring themselves a spot in the Chase under NASCAR's new qualifying format that rewards winning.

Then there's Jimmie Johnson -- you know, the six-time Sprint Cup champion.

The flagship team for Hendrick Motorsports is winless this deep into the season for only the third time in Johnson's Cup career.

Should 48 fans be concerned?

"Until we are not locked in, there is nothing to worry about," Johnson told reporters Friday. "Where we sit in points right now, we are locked in. Of course we want to win; we want to win every race we go to. We have been in the ballpark and have been very close to victory a couple of times and it got away. Yes, there have been some poor performances. We are trying to raise that."

Johnson opened the season with three consecutive top-six efforts. But since a sixth place at Las Vegas, he has only two top-5s scattered among ho-hum finishes of 19th, 24th, 25th, 32nd and 23rd.

Two of those non-wins were particularly painful. Johnson led 104 laps at Fontana before tire issues derailed him. He finished 24th. A week later, he led 296 laps at Martinsville before relinquishing the lead to Kurt Busch with 10 to go.

The good news: The 1.5-mile tri-oval at Kansas has been good to Six-Time, who ended a 21-race winless skid -- the longest of his career -- here in 2011.

You have to like Johnson's chances in Saturday night's 5-hour Energy 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, Fox). He has finished ninth or better in his past 10 starts here, including wins in 2008 and '11. His 7.5 average finish at the track is tops all time among drivers with a minimum of five starts.

"I don't think that we are where we want to be as a team right now, but we have had a few looks at wins, and I know we will get a few more," Johnson said. "We just need to capitalize on that. If not, points still matter. There is a bigger window to make the Chase today than there was last year. Last year was 12; this year it's 16. I don't think there is anything to stress out about yet."

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesJimmie Johnson (48) slid to a 23rd-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.

Let's not pick on just Johnson. He isn't the only heavyweight struggling to find Victory Lane. Jeff Gordon, too, is winless. So is Matt Kenseth.

Just for fun, throw Tony Stewart into the mix. That represents four drivers with a collective 14 Cup championships still winless in 2014.

And Logano has two wins?

Gordon, a four-time champion, has gotten close. He has challenged for race wins early and often. He already has four top-5s in 10 starts (he had eight all of last season). And he has two wins here, but he hasn't visited Victory Lane at Kansas since 2002.

Oh, did we mention Gordon is leading the Cup standings?

"Kansas has always been one of my favorite racetracks," Gordon said in a teleconference this week. "When they repaved it, it moved a little further down my list. It seems like every year we go there, it ages, goes through the winter, gets back to the type of Kansas that I excel at, that I really like.

"The transitions are all still there. The variable banking is always a plus. But what I'm most excited about, and this is true for every track we're going to, is how good of a race team we have right now. Everywhere we go, we have competitive cars. We don't always start the weekend out that way. Some weekends we unload and we're just fast and it stays that way throughout the whole weekend, and others we've had to really work at it.

"To me, that's the sign of a great team and that's why I'm excited to go not only to Kansas this weekend but every track on the schedule."

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, won seven times last season, finishing second to Johnson in the standings. He has been Mr. Consistent in 2014. Yeah, Kenseth is searching for his first victory. But before the throwaway 37th-place finish at Talladega last weekend, he had reeled off five consecutive top-seven runs.

And Kenseth is no pushover at Kansas. He is the defending race winner and has won two of three here. He leads all drivers with a whopping 262 laps led in his past three starts at the track. It's only a matter of time before he breaks through.

Same goes for Johnson, a two-time Kansas winner who last triumphed on the Cup tour in Texas in November -- a drought of 12 races.

"We are still as hungry as we have ever been," Johnson said. "There is no guarantee that success will be as it was in the past, but we are going to show up and give 100 percent each week. I know we will win our fair share of races. We will make Chases and certainly be a threat for championships."

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


ALSO SEE