NASCAR & Auto Racing

Motorsports insider: Jimmie Johnson already back in championship form

Jimmie Johnson secured a spot in the Chase with Sunday’s victory at Atlanta.
Jimmie Johnson secured a spot in the Chase with Sunday’s victory at Atlanta. AP

The NASCAR season is only two weeks old, and Jimmie Johnson appears to be back in form.

Johnson won last week’s race in Atlanta, and has quieted any questions of his possible decline after a forgettable 2014. Johnson finished a career-low 11th last year in the final standings, leading some to question whether he had lost a little something from his championship run.

But he hasn’t and Johnson appears to once again be a threat to win what would be his seventh series championship. He has essentially already secured a spot in the 16-team Chase with last week’s win, and has to be considered the favorite going into this weekend’s race at Las Vegas.

Johnson has four wins at that track, the most by a driver.

“I’m certainly excited about going to Las Vegas,” Johnson said. “The track itself is tough, and we haven’t had a whole lot of success there lately, but I would really like to bring home that cool Kobalt trophy for my sponsor.

“Driving the Kobalt car for the Kobalt 400 adds some pressure, and [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] and I really don’t like to see someone else in Victory Lane with our sponsor. I’d love to win it for them this weekend — it would be really special.”

Gordon coming

Jeff Gordon is coming to the Metroplex for an event March 12 to promote Texas Motor Speedway’s spring race, the Duck Commander 500 on April 11.

Gordon will do a Q&A session with fans at Klyde Warren Park in Dallas from 12:30-1:30 p.m., and admission is free. The 43-year-old four-time Sprint Cup champion announced before the season that this would be his last season racing full time.

The event will also feature former Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls and Duck Dynasty’s John Godwin.

Welcome back

Veteran Cup driver Brian Vickers returns to his No. 55 car this weekend for the first time this season, after recovering from open-heart surgery in December.

“Your first question is, ‘Am I going to live?’” Vickers said. “Once I knew that, then I had to decide about racing. Maybe if I had already won a championship and done everything I wanted to do in racing, I would have given serious thought to walking away, but I really want to win races and a championship.

“There’s more to do and I didn’t want to someday look back and regret not coming back. And, I’m not going to lie, I enjoy going 200 mph. Overcoming problems like this is just what you have to do in life. There’s a lot of people battling things tougher than what I have battled.”

Stock up

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Two races, two third-place runs for the sport’s most popular driver.

Stock down

Jamie McMurray: Started third, finished 40th last week to extend his winless drought to 42 races.

Sponsor news

Comcast will sponsor Carl Edwards in four races this year, beginning Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It is Comcast’s first major NASCAR sponsorship and it couldn’t have picked a better race to make its debut: Edwards has two wins and an average finish of 9.2 at Las Vegas.

Quotable

“We understand Kurt Busch has begun the process for reinstatement as a NASCAR member. NASCAR has laid out its expectations for Kurt, and while there is no timetable to meet those expectations, Kurt’s willingness to embrace the conditions set forth by NASCAR is a positive step that we support.” — Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer in a statement on Kurt Busch’s decision to seek reinstatement after being suspended. Regan Smith is expected to continue to serve as Busch’s fill-in driver for the No. 41 car.

Telling number

10 drivers who have won consecutive Cup championships in the sport’s history. Kevin Harvick is attempting to become the 11th and join a group that includes Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

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