Published May 21, 2012
Philadelphia, PA – Look out. Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team are on a hot streak heading into the summer stretch of the Sprint Cup Series schedule.
In a period of one week, the team won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Pit Crew Challenge in Charlotte and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Johnson led a race-high 134 laps at Darlington, en route to his 56th career win, which placed him in sole possession of eighth on the Sprint Cup Series' all-time race winners list. He also gave team owner Rick Hendrick his long- awaited 200th victory in NASCAR's premier circuit.
"So glad to have it behind us and glad for this moment to be here for Rick, the company, all the people that have contributed to the 200th win," Johnson said after winning the May 12 race at Darlington.
Johnson delivered HMS its 199th win last October at Kansas Speedway. It took Johnson and the racing organization 17 races to get back into victory lane.
Last Thursday, Johnson's team beat Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing squad in the pit crew challenge. The No. 11 crew had won the event the past two years.
"Those guys did such a fantastic job at the pit crew challenge Thursday night, beat the defending champions, not only once, but twice," Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, said. "I think it speaks volumes about how good those guys are."
The 48 team capped off its perfect week with Johnson's victory in the all-star race. Johnson benefited from winning the first segment of the event, as he was guaranteed to be the first driver onto pit road during the mandatory stops prior to the 10-lap shootout to the finish.
Johnson made numerous pit stops after segments one, two and three -- each 20 laps in length -- to improve the car. After beating Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski off pit road. Johnson led the way for the final segment. He ran in front for the last 10 laps, beating Keselowski to the finish line by just under one second.
Johnson, who also won the all-star race in 2003 and '06, tied Jeff Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for most victories in this event with three.
"It means a ton to me," Johnson said. "Those are two of the greatest drivers that have ever been in a stock car. I want to set my goals high and be considered one of the best to sit in a stock car. The only way you do that is by winning races and piling up those stats."
After their record string of five consecutive Sprint Cup championships came to an end last year, Johnson's team endured a rough start to this season in February at Daytona International Speedway.
Johnson's Daytona 500 car failed opening-day inspection when officials found an illegal C-post panel on it, prompting NASCAR to issue a hefty penalty to the team after Speedweeks at Daytona had concluded. Knaus and car chief Ron Malec received a six-race suspension, while Johnson was penalized with a loss of 25 points.
To make matters worse, Johnson finished 42nd in the Feb. 27 rain-delayed Daytona 500 after he was involved in a multi-car crash on just the second lap.
Johnson went to Phoenix the following weekend minus-23 in points.
But things turned around for the team on March 20. In its second and final appeal, HMS had its penalties overturned when National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook rescinded the suspensions for Knaus and Malec as well as removed the points deduction for Johnson.
Despite a 35th-place finish earlier this month at Talladega Superspeedway, Johnson has bounced back nicely from Daytona, as he currently sits fifth in the rankings (39 points behind leader Greg Biffle).
Johnson enters NASCAR's longest race of the season -- the Coca-Cola 600 -- on Sunday at Charlotte with a whole lot of momentum. Charlotte had been known as "Jimmie's House," as he won five times in a six-race period there from 2003-05.
His sixth victory at this track in October 2009 placed him a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most wins at this track.
Can Johnson become the all-time leader in race wins at Charlotte as well as give his boss victory No. 201 this weekend?
"After you win the 200th, that was kind of a monkey on our back for awhile," Hendrick said. "To get the pit crew deal done, then coming here (last Saturday night) and running this well, just excited about the 600, excited about the rest of the year. ... Everything has been clicking for us lately."
With the way their running right now, Johnson's team is certainly looking like the favorite to win the 600-miler at Charlotte.