NASCAR Dover 2014 weekend recap: Jimmie Johnson typical dominant self in winning

Todd Warshaw

Surgery and a lack of offseason testing contributed to Jimmie Johnson’s slow start to 2014, but in a likely precursor of things to come, he blitzed the competition in winning Sunday at Dover.

Two inevitabilities in life are death and taxes, though an amendment needs to be made to include Jimmie Johnson winning at Dover International Speedway.

Sunday's FedEx 400 played out much like recent versions at the 1-mile oval with Johnson celebrating yet another dominating win, his sixth in the previous 11 Dover races.

If Dover is the Monster Mile, then Johnson is indeed its almighty conqueror. He led 272 out of 400 laps Sunday, and in the past 11 races at the concrete speedway has led 143 or more laps on 10 occasions.

"It's amazing that we can stay on top of things here with the different generation car, different rules, different tires," Johnson said. "This place just fits my style."

After going winless through the season's first 11 races, Sunday marked Johnson's second consecutive victory.

Inevitably, the slow start to the year prompted repeated questions about whether the No. 48 team was in decline. Speculation was fueled by a palpable rise in tension between crew chief Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, giving credence that perhaps their relationship was frayed beyond repair.

In hindsight, however, the unevenness the 48 team experienced through early season was almost to be expected.

With the team in midst of pursuing its sixth championship last fall, early preparations for 2014 were set aside. Things were further compounded by sweeping rule changes to the aerodynamics of the Generation-6 car that made Johnson uncomfortable -- no longer did the car turn as freely as he preferred -- while Knaus struggled to find the proper adjustments to give his driver greater feel.

And as revealed this weekend, additional efforts to get a jump on the season were put on hold when Johnson underwent surgery for three non-sports hernias in December.

The laparoscopic procedure prevented him from taking part in a NASCAR-wide test at Charlotte Motor Speedway held to help teams get acclimated to the new rules. Two other scheduled tests were canceled due to inclement weather, and just like that the 48 team was in the unusual position of playing catch-up.

"We're still behind," Knaus said. "I think we're behind on just a little bit of everything.

"The advantages that we had last year were minimized with these new rules, so we've got to try to find some new advantages and new ways to get the car set up to where Jimmie is happy with it. The last couple weeks have shown great strides in that direction, but we're not where we need to be."

Whether he thinks so, it's evident Johnson and Knaus have resumed their customary places at the top of the NASCAR pecking order. Sunday firmly cements any perceived cracks in the foundation of a dynasty that has won six championships and 50 races since 2006.

‘We're close, we're definitely close" Knaus said. "We had solid pit stops today. They needed to be a little bit better. We had a good race car today. It needs to be a bit better. So I think if we can start digging in a little bit deeper we'll finally have what we want when we get to September (and the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.)"

Jimmie Johnson

That Knaus in the aftermath of a race where Johnson decimated his challengers would describe his team as "close" to finding its customary high level of performance speaks volumes about the raised standards within the 48 team.

Winning, and doing so in convincing fashion as Johnson has done the past two weeks, is not enough. The only satisfactory result for the most dynamic driver - crew chief pairing in NASCAR history is total domination.

By Knaus' estimation Dover should then be considered merely a preview of what is to come next. A scary reality for everyone not associated with the No. 48 team, but a realm all should be well accustomed to existing in by now.

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