“We finished 38th last week so I can't put my guard down. Anything and everything that could go wrong last week did. Going into this next week we just need to show up and race smart and do our thing."
While reading these words, it was hard not to sit back and ponder just how much this team has matured in the last few years.
After winning their first championship back in 2006, who would have ever thought that three years later they would be on the verge of making NASCAR history with No. 4 with one race left?
As it is championships are not easily won to begin with, but when you think about two in a row and then you throw in No. 3, that in itself is an amazing feat especially with all the talent that is out on the track.
Some of NASCAR’s best drivers have and might not ever see a championship, and that alone is a tell tale sign of just how hard they are to come by.
But there are still those fans who have elected to overlook all the hard work and time that the No. 48 team have put in to making their dreams come true, making there only prerogative to conjure up any excuse to discredit what they are accomplishing.
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's sponsored Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been on the receiving end of all the harsh comments since his first championship came under a cloud of controversy back in 2006.
It was during the season opening Daytona 500 when Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus was ejected from the 500 along with being suspended for the next three races for a device that that pushed the rear window out more than three-quarters of an inch to create an aerodynamic advantage.
Even though Knaus was also fined $25,000 along with the suspension, but none of this stopped Johnson from ultimately winning the race along with the championship at the end of the season.
It’s now been over two years since Knaus’s last run in with the NASCAR inspectors, but the possibility still lingers in the minds of his detractors that Knaus cannot be trusted.
One thing that a lot of the fans haven’t realized is that Johnson is still the driver behind the wheel, and his accomplishments have more than overshadowed the team’s dark past.
“If it's a slow phase from the fans, maybe in a position of not being respected for what I've accomplished, it will show up in due time. Everything runs its course.”
Johnson went on to say that, “With winning races, the fact we've won three championships, you know, that stuff is just proving what I'm made of, what the team's made of, who we are, what we're about. In time, we'll have our day in the sun.”
Johnson put into perspective exactly how the No. 48 team has been approaching this season’s championship run. Show up, race smart, and do our thing is easily the three key ingredients that they have utilized to keep themselves in contention to win number four.
The team has been in a zone, and right now they are running like a finely tuned orchestra. Even with the bad weekend at Texas, they were still able to regroup and put it all behind them and look ahead to the next challenge.
“We went into Texas, had the carpet jerked out from underneath our feet, finished 38th. Maybe there was a good lesson in that. Maybe it was a good lesson to myself and the team that this thing isn't over,” Johnson said.
Now it’s easy to speculate that a number of his many fans would probably say they knew after he won his first championship, that he would win the next two and today be looking at number four in a row.
But in reality all of that doesn’t matter because what Johnson did on Sunday with his dominating performance to the tune of leading 238 of the 312 laps, was show NASCAR nation that he is the man to beat no matter what is being said for or against him.
Once again Johnson let his driving take center stage, along with extending his points lead to 108 over his teammate Mark Martin going into the last race of the season next weekend at Homestead.
Johnson now has seven wins on the season, with four of them coming during the chase to bring his career total up to 47 while putting himself No. 13 on the all-time win list.
Even though he has already proved himself to his fans, there are still the detractors that are still whining that the team is either cheating, or that its Johnson's fault the chase is so boring. How does one driver make a race so boring, especially when there are 42 other drivers that are out on the track at the same time?
Johnson put it mildly by saying that, “Nothing has come easy for me my entire life. I don't expect the fan appeal, some of this perception stuff to come easy. I've always had to earn it. Here I am another year grinding it out and trying to earn it.”
After the mishap at Texas a couple of weeks ago which almost ruined the weekend, the team put together a valiant effort to get the car back out on the track which spoke a lot about the heart that this team has.
Johnson has been here before knowing what it takes to win the big ones, and if the boost he got from Phoenix is any indication of which direction the team is headed they will make history.
Going into Homestead this next weekend will be the final stop on a journey that has taken the team into through some pretty trying times, and all that is needed to accomplish a feat that has never been achieved is a finish of 25 or better.
Even though Johnson and company know that fate will have the final say-so, it's still up to them to hold there end of the bargain and not take fate for granted.
“That's the part where we just can't coast. We can't chill out, and I can't put my guard down. We have to stay focused and keep our heads down on the job at hand.”