No NASCAR Championship in 2011 for five time Champion Jimmie Johnson and no championship again this year. It wasn’t for trying.
This year it was almost like Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus were toying with us. After a 42nd place finish at Daytona the pair came back with two top five finishes. Then they had a Jimmie/Chad level of mediocrity with finishes of 9th, 10th and 12th. This went on throughout the season. Great runs and then uncharacteristic poor finishes. Three wins in the regular season and by the time the Chase for the Sprint Cup started they were right near the top of the standings.
While Jimmie and Chad were alternating between brilliance and poor finishes they did something to the car in order to help it turn better in the corners of the intermediate tracks. Throughout the spring and summer it was the talk of the garage. When it was apparent that all the Hendrick Motorsports cars had the same advantage, the voices became louder culminating with Brad Keselowski calling attention to it at Michigan in August. Ironically Jimmie finished yet again an uncharacteristic 27th there.
Jimmie Johnson started the Chase for the Sprint Cup second in the standings due to his three regular season wins. It appeared that Jimmie and Chad had everyone right where they wanted them. Work on the car, win some races, and make the Chase then get down to business.
The No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet was in contention for the Championship right until the last race. Jimmie even led the standings for a few weeks. In the end he had similar uncharacteristic finishes of 32nd and 36th the last two races of the season. He ended up finishing third in the standings.
Jimmie said after the race, “We did all we could and came up a little short.”
Looking at Jimmie’s statistics for the season backs that up. Five wins, 18 top five and 24 top ten finishes were right up there with the seasons he previously won championships. 24 top ten finishes ties the most top ten finishes he has had in a season with 2006, 2007 and 2009. He led 1744 laps, his third highest.
Jimmie Johnson didn’t win the Championship this year but he and his team sure performed like they were going to. Look for Jimmie and Chad to be back next year fighting right at the top of the standings for that sixth championship.