Posted: 9:19 a.m. Monday, June 10, 2013
By Jordan Bianchi
After the events of the week before, where Jimmie Johnson cost himself a surefire win at Dover when he got overzealous on a late-race restart, it was fitting that Sunday's NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway would be decided under similar circumstances.
However, unlike Dover there was no gamesmanship. Nor was there any controversy.
And of course Johnson was one of the principles involved when the Party in the Poconos 400 featured three restarts in the final 18 laps. In a race devoid of much excitement, these restarts were the most compelling moments.
Unlike last week Johnson finished the job with authority.
He timed each restart perfectly and quickly distanced himself from the field. And when the checkered flag waved he was in Victory Lane holding his third winner's trophy of the year and the 63rd of his career.
Seemingly Johnson had atoned for misstep seven days before, admitting afterward that Dover "lingered a little for me."
However his crew chief had a different perspective.
"It would have been very easy to come in here with a chip on your shoulder or a grudge, and Jimmie is not that kind of guy," Chad Knaus said. "For any of you who know Jimmie, he doesn't carry a grudge. He is very laid back -- the pinnacle Californian, and he just lets it come and go as it pleases."
Pocono represented a team at its peak.
Johnson dominated like few drivers have dominated a speedway race in recent years. Overall, he led 128 of 160 laps and not once was seriously challenged. Pocono was further proof of what happens when you pair a great, highly motivated driver with one of the savviest crew chiefs in the garage.
"(Johnson's) one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen," said teammate and third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. "And Chad Knaus is probably one of the smartest crew chiefs the sport has ever seen. Very clever guy, calls a good race, puts together a good race car, got good guys and knows how to put good people around him."
From all appearances Johnson seems destined to go on one of his patent summer stretches where he racks up wins and accumulates points with seemingly little effort. All the while the competition looks on with a mix of awe and trepidation unable to consistently match the 48 team's performance.
Johnson already has three wins --and could have easily had a couple more -- and holds an imposing 51-point lead over Carl Edwards -- more than a full race. Meaning, he could sit out a race and still maintain his position as the championship leader.
At this point the only thing that could stop his momentum is the impending birth of his second child.
"My selfish motivation is if Chani (his wife) goes into labor early, I don't have to worry about Richmond (the regular-season finale), honestly," Johnson said. "That is what I'm working so hard for. ... It sure takes some pressure off if we lock early."
Whatever the source of his motivation, he has clearly raised his game to another level; a level which few if any in the garage can match. The question now is should Johnson go ahead and get the jump on planning yet another championship celebration?