Chevy looks for a crown jewel: Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying 7th Cup title

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

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    2014 Chevrolet-supported Sprint Cup teams

    No.DriverCrew chiefTeam
    1Jamie McMurrayKeith RoddenChip Ganassi
    3Austin DillonGil MartinRichard Childress
    4Kevin HarvickRodney ChildersStewart-Haas
    5Kasey KahneKenny FrancisHendrick
    7Michael AnnettKevin ManionTommy Baldwin
    10Danica PatrickTony GibsonStewart-Haas
    13Casey MearsBootie BarkerGermain
    14Tony StewartChad JohnstonStewart-Haas
    24Jeff GordonAlan GustafsonHendrick
    27Paul MenardSlugger LabbeRichard Childress
    31Ryan NewmanLuke LambertRichard Childress
    41Kurt BuschDaniel KnostStewart-Haas
    42Kyle LarsonChris HeroyChip Ganassi
    47A.J. AllmendingerBrian BurnsJTG Daugherty
    48Jimmie JohnsonChad KnausHendrick
    51Justin AllgaierSteve AddingtonPhoenix
    78Martin Truex Jr.Todd BerrierFurniture Row
    88Dale Earnhardt Jr.Steve LetarteHendrick

— This is the last of a three-part series previewing the manufacturer-supported entries in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

There is just one word to summarize Chevrolet’s investment in NASCAR’s premier series over the past decade: dominance.

Chevy has won the series’ past 11 manufacturer’s championships and of the 10 Cup titles decided by the Chase format, Chevy drivers have won the championship eight times.

A large part of that success has been Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, who has won six championships over the past eight seasons, including five in a row at one point.

Part of Chevrolet’s success also comes from having the largest collection of top-level organizations, providing factory support to four multi-car organizations.

Chevrolet began 2013 with a new entry into the Cup series, the Chevrolet SS.

All questions soon were answered by Johnson winning the season-opening Daytona 500.

“So much effort went into just getting the car ready to race in Daytona and beyond, it was hard to look this far forward to predict we would earn another manufacturer’s Cup title in 2013,” said Pat Suhy, Chevrolet Racing NASCAR group manager.

“Our teams’ collective success is driven by a fierce desire to win, coupled with a commitment to do what it takes to get to Victory Lane.”

There’s little reason to believe Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing won’t continue their respective success, and many eyes will be on Chip Ganassi Racing and upstart Kyle Larson.

Larson and fellow Chevrolet driver Austin Dillon from RCR are among the favorites of a unusually large 2014 Cup rookie class.

Q&A with Jimmie Johnson

Q. Whether it was Hank Aaron chasing Babe Ruth’s home-run record, this year, I think, is probably going to be different for you going for title No. 7. Do you anticipate sort of a different feel to this year as that goes on?

A. I haven’t put much thought into it. But if it becomes and the opportunity is there in front of us and we get deep in the Chase and have a shot at it, that reality is going to be hard to keep that out of my mind. I’m sure the questions that would come with it as well wouldn’t let me let it slide by.

But it’s an amazing opportunity to have ahead of myself, to have six company championships is something I’m extremely proud of. If I was able to tie, I don’t know what it would mean or what that experience would feel like, but to be up there with those two legends (Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) would be top of the list. Pretty cool.

Q. When was it you first felt like you were discovered or something that happened in your career that got you noticed?

A. The first one would be when I was 15. There is a man named Jeff Bennett that owned a pet food company that had five little buggies that raced in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series. One of his drivers left to be the back-up driver for Cal Wells’ Toyota Racing Team that they had in the Truck Series. When he left midseason, it left an opening for somebody to come in. Through my dad’s persistence and some sponsorship help, I was able to get that seat and got going.

Q. When you’re a champion, especially defending champion, how do you improve? What do you look at in the offseason and what do you look at to be better?

A. Things always change with rules, tires, formats. We always look at ourselves as individual members of the team and what we can do better at. Last year I let a lot of races slip away during the regular season that I shouldn’t have. So that is an area that I’ve got to focus on for whatever reason, if it’s procedures during the restart or just not closing at the end. I let some slip away that I need to correct.

But we’ll all look at our individual areas. This year, there is a lot of change, at least until the green flag drops come race time. That will keep us all really busy for at least until the halfway point of the season, trying to grasp what the car wants with the new rules package and the format for qualifying.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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