FYI WIRZ: NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson and Other Champions Run Empty in 2014

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FYI WIRZ: NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson and Other Champions Run Empty in 2014
Credit: Dwight Drum
Jimmie Johnson during practice at Daytona.

The list of NASCAR Sprint Cup champions not in Victory Lane in 2014 after 10 events is impressive and surely frustrating to at least four tall names. It’s significant that former champions Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart have been unable to snatch a checkered flag this year. It’s understandably aggravating to the fabulous group that the No. 48, No. 24, No. 20 and No. 14 cars haven’t been first across any start-finish lines once all the laps are done.

Significant, too, is that eight different winners have won NSCS races in 10 outings. Many drivers expected more intense desire to win with the new Chase elimination numbers set higher at 16, but some didn’t. NASCAR officials will access that reality when there are only four drivers remaining to grasp the precious flag at Homestead.

It’s highly unlikely there will be more than 16 different drivers with wins trying to qualify for the Chase after Richmond in September. That assumption should have an effect on drivers with and without wins going forward.

Up next is the 1.5-mile, 15-degree banking at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas on May 10.

Perhaps one of the former champions will finally find a way to be first on the last lap of the Kansas 400 this Saturday night, but many point and win leaders alike have thoughts about the Midwest track and shared them for fans.

Select words often show trends and truths.

Skilled drivers Gordon, Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson and Carl Edwards commented about Kansas.

Nobody has been closer to winning than Gordon in the No. 24 this season, and as the points leader right now, he has to be taking confidence with him to Kansas.

“There’s something about Kansas that really suits my driving style,” Gordon said. “It’s a smooth track that’s very fast, and I love the transitions and how you transfer from the flatter straightaways into those banked corners.”

Like Gordon, Kenseth has had a good year and is only three points behind in second place, but he, too, can’t seem to be first to the last flag. He spoke about the new Generation 6 car on Kansas Speedway.

“The car has more air on it now, so they are going to be more stable and probably a little easier to drive,” Kenseth said. “Before it was hard to find good balance to be fast at the end and the beginning. It’s still going to be treacherous, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Harvick has the luxury of two wins in 2014 as his No. 4 team goes west. He added his thoughts about Kansas.

“Speeds will definitely be up compared to what they were last year,” Harvick said. “There will be totally new concepts with the cars and tires, so we’ll have to take all of our notes and throw them out the window and create new ones as we go back for the race.”

Like Harvick, Logano has two wins, and he and his team are the first seed in the Chase scenario right now with 16 races to go before contender cutoff.

“A lot of things that can change before then,” Logano said. “But that shows how strong our team has been. We have been strong on short tracks, intermediates and speedways. We need to keep doing what we have been doing.”

Johnson’s season results have been mixed at best, but he still sits seventh in points. Like most top drivers, that first win is premium, if not essential, to Johnson and his team members. Johnson expressed confidence.

“I feel pretty good about our 1.5-mile program,” Johnson. “We led a lot at California. Vegas went well. We still want to be better, but we’ve been in there fighting for wins. So we feel very good about that."

Earnhardt is looking forward to an intermediate track as well.

“We have had fast cars all season,” Earnhardt said. “We did the Goodyear tire test at Michigan last month, and we were able to learn some things for this weekend. I’m looking forward to getting on the track and seeing what kind of speed we have.”

Edwards is racing close to his hometown and shared his fondness for the area. 

“So many people that I know come to that race, people who have helped me in my career,” Edwards said. “It’s my home track, and this year it will be a night race. The weather looks like it is going to be perfect.”

Edwards also pointed out the advantage that winners have this year once they secure a win that will likely get them in the Chase.

“We have nothing to lose right now,” he said. “We have already got a win and we are doing OK in the points, so this race will be one where we truly just go for it.”

It’s likely that at least one former NSCS champion will finally lift a winning trophy in the next 16 races before the Chase begins. Probably two or more will join the contender list with a win, not just on accumulated points.

But for now, in relation to 2014 wins, champions run empty.

Credit: Dwight Drum
Jimmie Johnson in the Daytona garage.

 

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives 

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