Jimmie Johnson said he needed the off week in the Sprint Cup Series schedule in order to “reboot.”
Consider Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team fully charged.
While a hint of doubt may have emerged with Johnson’s uncharacteristic 35th-place finish two weeks ago at Martinsville, Va. – a track on which he typically dominates – his victory in Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway served as a powerful reminder of his team’s potential.
Johnson led a race-high 128 of 334 laps but still had to battle from behind in the final 20 laps to reclaim the lead, then fight off a stiff challenge from Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to keep it.
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“The No. 4 (Harvick) all of a sudden was in second and coming hard on the top. So, I moved up top to try and make that work and I looked in the mirror off to (Turn) 2 and I saw him in the wall,” Johnson said.
“I figured that was the end of him, and then he and (Earnhardt) raced each other so hard at the end. Just good fun. I think that Earnhardt, Harvick, all of us that were involved in that there at the end just had a blast.
“That is how racing should be, and I’m so happy the fans got to see that.”
Johnson’s competitors may not have been all that excited to see a reminder that the six-time series champion is in good position to challenge for a NASCAR record-tying seventh.
“They just have a really good setup for here for sure,” Harvick said of Johnson’s team. “I think as you look at the history, this is just a race track that fits everything that they do.
“Jimmie knows the feel that he wants in the car and that changes as to what’s underneath the car and they do a really good job and make it happen when it’s time to get to the race.”
Johnson’s victory was his fifth at Texas, the most of any driver, but it was his first in the spring race. The other four have come in the fall event, one of the final races in the championship Chase each season.
With two wins this season, Johnson is already locked in the Chase but if you think the No. 48 team is content, think again.
“We’re making huge, huge gains, but we need to be a lot better yet,” said Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus.
“We’ve got to press hard to get to where we need to be, where the No. 48 was a few years ago, and with the rules and the guidelines that they’ve put out there right now, it’s definitely (hard) to do.”
Even the struggles at Martinsville didn’t seem to faze Knaus, who appears eager for the what lies ahead this season.
“To have a mechanical the first 100 laps of a 500-lap race (at Martinsville), it’s kind of difficult to make something like that happen. It wasn’t like we raced 35th, you know what I mean?” he said.
“We would have been pretty good, I think, last week. But this week was great, man. It was fantastic. Jimmie came in, he was ready to go. He was energized. The guys came in ready to go and energized.
“A weekend off I think was good for everybody in the industry, and we came in here on our tiptoes and were ready to go.”
They don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter