Jimmie Johnson is the Michael Jordan of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. The 2013 champion has won six rings, the same as Jordan did with the Chicago Bulls. But the new season has not been kind to the 38-year-old driver whose presence looms large over every NASCAR race. We’re at Memorial Day weekend, and JJ has yet to win a race.
It’s unprecedented for a Jimmie Johnson losing streak to extend this deep into the season. He’s gotten close a couple other times. In 2012, it took until May 12 for Johnson to get his first win. He followed that win up with a victory in the All-Star race at Charlotte, then another win at Dover two weeks later. In 2003, it took until May 17, at which point Johnson won a week later in Charlotte.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is again where Johnson is at this week, and it’s notable, because his dominance of this track—in particular from 2003-05, earned it the nickname of “The House That Jimmie Johnson Built.” Is this where Johnson will make his breakthrough in 2014? And if so, will it follow the pattern of 2003 and 2012, where a long wait for the first win led immediately to more?
The previous patterns of wins coming in succession would back up the theory of TheSportsNotebook’s resident hard-core NASCAR fan, my brother Bill, with whom I spoke with about JJ’s struggles. Bill attributes most of it to just the luck not going Johnson’s way—and just to be clear, this is *not* out of a desire to apologize for Johnson, as Bill passionately dislikes NASCAR’s reigning champion and has passed that on to me upon introducing me to this great sport.
But sometimes the breaks don’t go your way. The flip side of that is when the luck does change, things can even out quickly. Johnson’s past record has shown that, and absent compelling reasons for a career decline, the safe assumption is that they will even out again.
There’s no evidence of a serious career decline for Johnson, given that this sixth championship just came last November. What there is evidence of, however, is some new young guns that are starting to make their way into prominence.
I’m thinking in particular of Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, both of whom would make the postseason if it started today. Dillon had run only 13 career races prior to going full-time this year, and Larson ran four races last year before starting his first full campaign back at Daytona in February. Add to that drives like Joey Logano, who have already made their first splash and are now morphing into serious championship contenders, and you have an exciting landscape that’s going to make life challenging for the established vets.
No vet is more established than Jimmie Johnson. He’s at a track where he’s enjoyed great success over the years, and he needs to get off the schneid in 2014.