By Doug Halberstadt
The only thing missing from Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR résumé was a win at the Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s hard to believe that the four-time consecutive Sprint Cup champion had never made it to victory lane in Thunder Valley.
After last Sunday, March 21, Johnson no longer has that hole to fill. It took him 17 tries, but he finally got the elusive win at Bristol.
“Every win is extremely special,” said Johnson, who snapped an 0-for-16 skid at Bristol by charging from sixth to first over Sunday’s final 10-lap run. “But when a track kicks your butt for so long, and you finally can win at that track, there’s just something really unique about that. That’s what I experienced today.”
Johnson’s crew chief, former Rockford resident Chad Knaus, said of the win: “It was pretty high on his list. Jimmie and I write a little preseason summary of what it is we want to try to accomplish for the upcoming season. Among other things, Bristol was pretty high on his list. For him to say that he wanted to focus on that and get better at this race track, for us to be able to go out there and do what we did, I think it speaks volumes about the dedication and desire he’s got inside. It’s not different at any other racetrack. We want to win every single event. This one has eluded us. We’re very proud to be able to have it.”
Johnson added, “Winning here, I think we’ve got something for [the competition] the rest of the year.”
Johnson and Knaus are considered by many other drivers on the NASCAR circuit as the team to beat again this season. They may possibly be the most consistent team ever in the sport. Much of the credit goes to the effort the team puts forth not only on the track, but also during the time between races.
Knaus credited the physical as well as the mental. “I think it falls back on preparation, it really does,” he said. “You know, Jimmie ran  laps, got out of the race car, looked like he ran 20. Some of these other guys are falling over, whipped, could hardly drive.”
At the beginning of this season, there were six tracks on the NASCAR tour that Johnson hadn’t crossed the finish line first at. Now, there are only five—Michigan, Chicagoland, Homestead-Miami and the two road courses, Infineon and Watkins Glen.
I’m guessing that somewhere on their preseason summary of goals, those tracks were listed as well. That’s one down and five to go.
This week, the series travels to Martinsville Speedway, a track where Johnson has picked up six of his 50 career wins. Don’t be surprised if he makes it back-to-back wins at one of his favorite tracks.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the March 24-30, 2010 issue