The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will always be remembered as one with twists and turns, and one with a special championship crown at the end of it. Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick, Ron Malec and the entire No. 48 team brought home their sixth championship.
While it may be the sixth, it’ll be one of the specialist nights for the driver of the No. 48 Lowes/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet as he got to celebrate it with his wife Chandra and their two daughters Genieve and Lydia.
“It's an incredible experience,” he said. “There's such joy and pride. My family makes a lot of sacrifices to support me. So from respect and appreciation of the sacrifices made. I'm not sure why Chani was emotional as she was. She's typically not, nor am I. When she started to lose it, it sucked me in, I started to lose it as well.
“There was just an overwhelming sense of pride. It comes from a lot of different angles, the work that goes into it, the sacrifice. I'm just a proud father and a proud husband.
“There's something activated in me - I think all parents can speak to this - once you have kids and they're born, your heart changes and you love in different ways, a different capacity. All that stuff is going on, leads me down the road to where I am today, the position I'm in today, enjoying those moments.”
For Johnson, the crown this year marks his first since 2010 when he completed his string of five championships in a row.
The 2011 season saw the 48 team not be a predominant factor in the championship picture as Tony Stewart was crowned champion. The 2012 season the 48 team got back on their game and fought Brad Keselowski for the championship all the way down to the last race of the year, though ended up finishing third.
“I look back on those two years, and there wasn't anything from those years that motivated me any more than normal,” Johnson said. “I've been so fortunate to win the five before that, it's kind of crazy to look at missing a couple opportunities or not being a factor, especially in the '11 season. Last year we were in the mix. As I mentioned before, I just want to be in the mix.
“To have expectations to win championships is unfair or what. I think it's more realistic to expect an opportunity at a championship. To win, that's a whole different story.”
Johnson added that he takes pride in the fact that he has made the Chase every year, giving himself the opportunity to win the championship. Though he hasn’t done it by himself as there’s no doubt that this is a team sport. The driver-crew chief relationship that Chad Knaus and Johnson have grown to have is second to none.
“Chad, the responsibility he carries, he has more I think pressure on him than any member of the team,” Johnson said of his crew chief. “He has to keep a balanced budget within Hendrick. He's responsible for the guys that go over the wall, for the guys that turn the wrenches, he's responsible for the speed of the car, technology advancements, all those things.
“I have a pretty stress-free week until I show up at the racetrack. He is greatly responsible for it all. What percentage is hard to say. I know the pairing of us, there's something magical there and it works. I say this confidently: I would not have the success I've had in this support if it wasn't for Chad and our relationship together. So I give him a major tip of the hat, the total credit that's due. He's a big part of all that.”
As the pair continue to add to their numbers, other question why their teammates – Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – can’t match those numbers despite using the same equipment across the board. Johnson says it’s all about the driver/crew chief relationship.
“We do develop our own styles as far as a driver, a crew chief, the way we set our cars up,” he explained. “We kind of migrate off into different directions, although they are close together. We do end up with differences in our cars. That boils down to the crew chief and driver styles.
“We look outside of our four cars, the Stewart-Haas organization, they have all the equipment as well. When you break it all down, at the end of the day, I put the weight in the people. The connection and communication between the driver and crew chief is really where that starts.
“You can branch off into race calling, drivers competing, tracks, things like that are other sidelines that play a key factor into it. But I put a lot of weight into the driver/crew chief relationship. Over the years we've seen pairings that work and I feel fortunate to have that happen with me and Chad.”
This year, the 48 team grabbed the opportunity given by the horns with consistency throughout the final 10 races to win their sixth championship.
Certainly, Johnson and team took time to celebrate the championship, though as quickly as the parties start, they finish. With NASCAR rolling out the new rule package for next year yesterday, focus now shifts towards 2014 and a possible seventh title.
Seven. Seventh heaven. The number has many other things that can be said with it – but the biggest word: history. If Johnson is able to win his seventh title, it will put him right there with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty at the top of the mountain.