Are you pumped about this weekend’s NASCAR races at P.I.R.? So is KOOL! Listen during the All-Request KOOL Cafe at Noon for your tickets to the Kobalt Tools 500. You just may bump into Jimmie Johnson. He’s on the warpath, you know…
(Courtesy of Mark Armijo – Arizona Republic)
Uh-oh. Bad news for Jimmie Johnson.
In the six-year history of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the series leader with only two remaining races has gone on to collar the title.
Although that’s potentially good news for Denny Hamlin, whose victory-lane shuffle Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway allowed him to leapfrog Johnson and move into the series lead by 33 points, it might be a real bummer for Johnson, who is attempting to win a fifth consecutive crown.
// “Yeah, it’s not where we want to be,” said Johnson, who is No. 2 in the standings entering Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. “But there’s a lot of racing left. There are no guarantees what’s going to happen.
“At some point, the championship run will come to an end, and I’m going to try my hardest to make sure it’s not this year.”
Not everyone on pit road is rooting for Johnson – particularly Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, who at No. 3 in the standings is 59 points behind Hamlin and the only driver besides Johnson with a realistic shot to overtake Hamlin with only the PIR and Homestead, Fla., races left on the schedule.
“I definitely think it would be good (to see a different champion),” Hamlin said. “It would add interest.”
Harvick said: “Well, I think people get tired of seeing the same guy winning. I think in the end, it would just bring new attention to the sport because it wouldn’t be the same old thing.”
Through no fault of his own, Johnson certainly didn’t resemble a driver nearing a fifth title at Texas, where he finished ninth and led only a single lap.
Faulty pit stops repeatedly kept shoving Johnson farther back in the field, and it eventually became so frustrating that crew chief Chad Knaus ordered a swap of the entire over-the-wall pit crew with teammate Jeff Gordon’s crew near the race’s midway point.
Gordon’s crew became available when he was taken out in a scary crash triggered by Jeff Burton.
The pit-crew swap also will remain in effect for the final two races, according to a Hendrick Motorsports statement released Monday.
How much the move helps is unclear, but there are more-important questions.
Can Johnson do something no one else has done in the Chase’s short history? Can he stage a rally and gouge one more path to the front?
“Man, we’re going to try,” Johnson said. “We have two mistakes. We have the race at New Hampshire (the Chase opener) where we finished 25th and (Texas). Time will tell.
“All I know is that I’m going to show up (at PIR) and do everything in my power to win the race and lead laps. We’ll see what happens to the other guys.”
At least, cheery news awaits at PIR, an oddly shaped oval where Johnson has won four of the past six races.
“You don’t really need a crystal ball to know what I have to do (at PIR),” Johnson said.
“It’s kind of simple in some ways. I just need to win.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck and K&N Pro Series races.
Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale.
Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 500: Friday, qualifying (3:45 p.m.); Sunday, race (1 p.m.).
Nationwide Wypall 200: Saturday, qualifying (10:05 a.m.) and race (2:30 p.m.).
Camping World Trucks Lucas Oil 150: Friday, qualifying (2:30 p.m.) and race (6 p.m.).
K&N Pro Series West 125: Thursday, qualifying (6:40 p.m.); Saturday, race (6p.m.).
Tickets and information: phoenixraceway.com.