Loudon win exhibits (again) Johnson's strength

Early in the race, a problem in the No. 48 pit dropped Jimmie Johnson back in the field at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday in Loudon, N.H. but they were able to overcome it and went on to win the event via nascar-assets.americaneagle.com Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

What makes the Lowes Chevrolet Impala team so good? Nobody knows for certain.

Oh sure, it definitely doesn't hurt that a combination of Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and Ron Malec lead the 48 bunch and it definitely doesn't hurt that the George Steinbrenner of NASCAR, Rick Hendrick, is backing their cause. A great driver isn't going to win without a great race team and a great race team probably isn't going to win without a great driver.

But nobody can really say for sure, down to every little detail what makes that team, that race car so stout. So dominant. Harder to kill than a cockroach on steroids. What little intricacies of Knaus's mechanical genius have given Johnson the strongest steed in racing for years, even before his run of championships began.

The driver himself, however, isn't quite so hard to figure out what makes him great. He exhibited it once again en route to winning Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

It is hard to say whether Jimmie Johnson is the most talented driver of all time. Its hard to say whether he's even the most talented driver of his time. Too many variables play into such questions to give a definitive answer.

There is little question, however, that no driver has matched Johnson's level of focus during his four-plus year run of success that has made him, to the chagrin of his detractors, the face of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

Johnson is rarely rattled, and if he is, it is almost exclusively a brief moment before he turns his mind back to the job at hand. Perhaps his overwhelming confidence in his car, his team, and himself makes it easy for him to say, "Okay, that sucks, but lets get back to work."

And why wouldn't he? At the wheel of a Knaus-prepared Chevrolet, as long as Johnson doesn't lose his head or take his eye off the prize, he's just about a lock for a top-five finish, if not more.

Sure, bad luck can rear its head. In a sport where the unexpected is expected, AJ Allmendinger's stricken car skidding into Johnson's door at Darlington was one of the most unbelievable moments in the last decade of stock car racing.

Johnson himself isn't immune to errors, as his self-inflicted crash at Talladega and the flat tire he gave himself after door-slamming teammate Jeff Gordon at Texas serve note to, but his own gaffes are so rare that they are considered as much an anomaly as the Darlington incident.

At Loudon on Sunday, once again, Johnson was placed in a less-than-favorable position, after his crew hung a lug nut during his first pit stop. It took nearly 200 laps, thanks to an uncharacteristically green day at Loudon, but Johnson found himself back in the position he had been in before the pit mistake: battling for the race lead.

He ultimately won the race after repaying a bump from Kurt Busch with one of his own - an incident that he admitted in victory lane led him to chance throwing away the race if only to give Busch, a vocal critic of Johnson and his success, some payback.

The Loudon comeback is the latest of many races where the 48 car fell behind only to come back when it counted and - seemingly - more often than not take the checkered flag.

As long as Johnson retains his ability to remain cool under pressure and in situations like the one Sunday, regardless of if Chad Knaus loses his magic touch or the metaphorical golden horseshoe, he will remain the man to beat for years to come. He may be beaten at times, but he'll remain the benchmark for success in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. A good day will continue to occasionally amount to simply finishing ahead of the #48 car.

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