Five things we learned at Kansas
Rick Hendrick's attendance for the remainder of the Sprint Cup season figures to be perfect. There could be plenty to see.
Not only will the owner of NASCAR's most successful organization eagerly count down what could be a record sixth consecutive championship from his driver, Jimmie Johnson, the journey to the titlists' podium at Homestead-Miami Speedway might very well put Hendrick in victory lane for the 200th time in the Sprint Cup series.
Johnson's victory on Sunday at Kansas Speedway might have been a precursor to something big for both men whose personal and professional legacies are so intertwined.
"A lot of people had said the magic was gone, and you look at Dover and then you look at this race today," said Hendrick, referring to Johnson's runner-up finish last week, "and they just put their heads down when it counts and get the job done."
With the win, Johnson bolted two spots to third in the Sprint Cup driver standings, just four points behind leader Carl Edwards with six races remaining. Johnson was a career-Chase-low tenth in points after the second playoff race in New Hampshire, 29 points behind. Johnson also broke a career-long 21-race winless streak.
"I can't say that I've known the number or thought about a number," said Johnson of the streak after tying Rusty Wallace for eighth alltime at 55 victories. "I look at this year, and there's probably three or four opportunities to win that come to mind that we just didn't take advantage of, and that's on everybody's back. I've messed up, we've had pit road issues, we've had a lot of little things go wrong, and we've had a lot of second place finishes that should have been wins.
"The competitor in all of us, we've known that we've been close. So yeah, we want to win and we want a lot more wins to start the Chase for bonus points, but it's been more about missed opportunity than really a number of races that we haven't won."
No one learned that Jimmie Johnson is a formidable race car driver on Sunday, not even after he led 197 of 272 laps. But here are five things we did learn at Kansas:
Edwards, who passed Harvick in the final laps, advanced one spot in the points standings to take the lead from Harvick, who slipped just one point behind into second. "I feel like we have had two weeks with very lucky breaks, both last week and this week," said Edwards, who finished third last week at Dover despite a pit road speeding penalty, "to be able to come back from a bad position on the racetrack. There is still so much racing left. We have run four races and it feels like we have run 400. There is a lot that can happen in the next six races. I have a feeling there will be more moments that define this championship, all the way up to the last lap at Homestead I think you will have to be on your game."
With the Chase being as much about the mitigation of disaster finishes and the exploitation of stellar ones, Edwards and Harvick appear equipped -- from their approach down to their teams -- to at least linger as contenders into the final races. At least. The championship may still be Johnson's to lose, but this pair appears ready to pounce if the champion falters. "I lapped (Edwards), and then (Harvick) was right there in front of me at one point in the race," Johnson said. "So for those two to both bounce back and finish where they did surprise me. I thought we were going to have a huge day on both those guys, and it ended up being just a small day on them."