No. 48 Lowes Chevy
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
Average Start: 12.9
Average Finish: 11.9
Races Led: 23
Laps Led: 1,115
% Laps Completed: 99.2%
Points Finish: 6th
2011 in a Nutshell
After five consecutive championship seasons which continually showcased the talent, depth, resolve and unflappability of the entire 48 team, the streak finally came to an end. That it came to end the way it did with Jimmie Johnson putting together statistically the worst season of his career, was not expected.
Reasons to Believe
Jimmie Johnson didn’t magically forget how to drive a racecar and Chad Knaus didn’t all of a sudden forget how to tune a car to go faster … The same core group which won five straight titles is still in place … After a season he referred to as both disappointing and frustrating, Johnson is determined to fight his way back to the top of the standings … A very focused Hendrick Motorsports could spell trouble for the competition … Johnson may not get the credit he’s due, but he is a damn fine racecar driver who has the talent to win anywhere … While they may not admit it publically, there’s a sense this team allowed themselves to get complacent, and the letdown of last year has allowed everyone on the 48 team to refocus … They were their own worst enemy last season continually throwing away potential wins and good finishes … Johnson has never won fewer than two races in a season and is the only driver to have qualified for every Chase For the Sprint Cup … He has racked-up over a thousand laps led for five straight years.
Reasons to Doubt
Career-lows in wins in 2011, and maybe more worrisome, is his win total has dropped for each of the last three years … Fatigue and the possibility of burnout is an issue with Chad Knaus. One has to wonder how much longer he can continue in his continued role … The communication between Johnson and Knaus wasn’t there in 2011 and if that isn’t fixed, title No. 6 is nothing more than a pipedream … Furthermore, it seems as if both driver and crew chief are at the end of the rope with one another and a drastic change needs to occur … Yes, I know they won at Talladega last spring, regardless, how to approach the restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega continue to confound Johnson and Knaus … Despite last year’s overhaul, the pit crew still is mistake-prone and slow.
Area of Strength: Resolve
Jimmie Johnson has been very candid about how much not winning the championship last season has bothered him. Listening to him speak over the offseason it’s apparent he is as determined as ever to get back what he thinks belongs to him. A fired-up and hungry Jimmie Johnson could be a very scary thing for the competition in 2012.
Area of Weakness: Fatigue
Last year, this group gave off the impression of a team that was worn-out. Understandably considering the microscope they’ve been under for the last five-pus years. And maybe an offseason devoid of all that goes into being the Sprint Cup champion is what Johnson needed. That said, this is something to monitor throughout the coming season.
Best-case Scenario For 2012
With last year nothing more than a blip in the record books, and after a stress-free offseason which allowed him to recharge his batteries, Johnson once again becomes the dominant force in Sprint Cup – winning the most races and stomping the competition in route to his sixth title.
Worst-case Scenario For 2012
Instead of 2011 being a blip, it is actually a precursor of things to come. The relationship between Johnson and Knaus continues to disintegrates, to the point Knaus announces late in the summer he’s stepping down as crew chief of the 48 – effective immediately. While Johnson does get to Victory Lane a couple of times, it’s clear this team is no longer what they once were.
In Their Words
“I didn’t realize that over the five years or six years that we didn’t change as much maybe as we needed to and evolve. It’s tough to leave a successful road map and Chad and the team and I have been good at reinventing ourselves each year. But until the streak was broken, looking back at this off season what we have been through and trying to rebuild the team and make sure we are looking at everything we can, we have a different depth. I’m focusing on my interaction with the team, how I provide information with the team, what information I’m looking at. There are a lot of things I haven’t done in the past and I felt like I was one of the most in-depth drivers out there and I’m trying to even take those steps further now. So, because of the loss we have been able to dig deeper and get away from the road map we’ve built and challenge ourselves more. We have to reinvent ourselves in some ways this year and we are ready for it.”
Predicted Number of Wins: 4
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
While I have questions about how much longer Chad Knaus is going to be the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, I don’t question that the sum is greater than the parts. No matter who’s atop his pit box calling the shots, Johnson driving Chevrolet’s from Hendrick Motorsports is more than enough to go to war with. And if nothing else this season, the man who won five straight championships will show his run is far from over.