Inside Motorsports: Johnson going nowhere soon

Wednesday, Nov. 06, 2013

As Jimmie Johnson inches his way toward a potential sixth Cup championship, the usual complainers have started their war cry:

Johnson is destroying NASCAR, they say. One more title and they’ll stop watching.

While some actually might have a genuine dislike of Johnson, in most cases the blowback can be credited to a simple request: They want someone new to win.

Fans got a taste the past two seasons with championships by Tony Stewart in 2011 and Brad Keselowski last year, but even then, Johnson remained in the title battles.

It appears there are only three ways by which Johnson and his No.48 Hendrick Motorsports team will not factor into the yearly battle.

First, other teams have to become as good or better. Right now, the only team that comes close is Matt Kenseth and his No.20 Joe Gibbs Racing team. Until there is a growing list of teams that can keep up, Johnson will stay at or near the top.

Second, Johnson retires. That’s not happening anytime soon.

And third, a new crop of drivers – some as talented as Johnson – are cultivated and rise up to challenge him.

This is the area that seems to get overlooked the most in NASCAR – the absence of new talent. Sure, there are some very talented drivers in Truck and Nationwide and even the lower series, but how many actually have progressed up all the way to test their talents in the Sprint Cup series?

The only one who comes to mind recently is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a two-time Nationwide series champion who is in his first year in the Cup series.

A quick look at the past five Cup rookie classes leaves you wondering who will be in this series in 10 years.

It has never been more difficult for young drivers to work their way through the NASCAR farm system to reach its highest level. That’s not because of an absence of talent, but rather a sign of the economic difficulty of acquiring sponsors willing to take a chance on unproven drivers.

Until that dramatically changes, the list of Johnson’s challengers each season will look remarkably familiar – as it already does.


McMurray to get new crew chief: Keith Rodden, race engineer for Kasey Kahne’s No.5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports, will become Jamie McMurray’s Sprint Cup Series crew chief next season, the Observer has learned.

Rodden will leave the No.5 at season’s end, several sources confirmed Tuesday. He would replace Kevin “Bono” Manion, who is expected to remain with McMurray’s No.1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team for this year’s final two races.

This is Rodden’s second season as the No.5 team’s race engineer. The N.C. State graduate has spent a decade working in racing.

When asked for comment on Rodden’s move to the No.1 team, EGR spokesman John Olguin said, “We are currently still working on our 2014 plans.”

Burton to make 1,000th NASCAR start: Sunday’s AdvoCare 500k at Phoenix will mark the 1,000th start in a NASCAR national series race for Jeff Burton, who will leave Richard Childress Racing at season’s end.

Burton, 46, has made 689 Cup starts, 306 in what is the Nationwide Series and four in the Truck Series driving for RCR, Roush Fenway Racing and the Stavola Brothers, among others.

“I’ve been lucky and blessed to have family and friends that have given me all this support,” Burton said. “I also have good relationships with everyone that I’ve worked with over the years to show for it, which is most important to me.”

Ganassi sports cars to move to Ford: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, winner of seven of the past 10 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype Championships, will switch to the Ford EcoBoost sports car engine package starting next year.

Ganassi will utilize Ford’s 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost racing engine for the 2014 United SportsCar Championship with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas returning to drive the entry starting with January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.