Why Winners Win

48 pitstop

“Teams that play together beat those teams with superior players who play more as individuals.”- NBA coaching legend Jack Ramsay

In a play on a “Foxworthyism”- if you go a dozen races without a win and they call it a slump, you might be a champion. Ha! There would be about 40 other drivers who would to have the kind of “slump” Jimmie Johnson just had.

Were you like me, and when you saw that the 48 won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600, you thought “Here we go- it looks like Johnson will get his first win of the season?” When Johnson’s Lowe’s Chevy is good off the truck, look out. You can call him six-time, I call him “Big Money,” because when it’s all on the line, the 48 team gets it done. That they did as Johnson wins his 67th Sprint Cup victory. His streak of winning at least one race in every season he’s raced full-time (since 2002) remains intact.

Those who have a hard time accepting the dominance, have all kinds of reasoning, from a cheating crew chief, a palm greasing owner, a complicit governing body, and other similar explanations. It’s not hard to understand, Chad Knaus has been caught in the act. Owner Rick Hendrick’s reputation was soiled when he crossed the Internal Revenue Service. Perpetual tweaking with the rules and the perception that NASCAR looks the other way when a violation occurs has not helped its own reputation in a time where its credibility has taken a hit with the fans.

Maybe there’s a simpler reason, the same reason other “hated” teams- the Miami Heat, the New York Yankees and the New England Patriots dominate: for them, winning is obsessive. Johnson, Knaus and all involved overturn every rock when it comes to finding a way. At the post-race news conference, Knaus thanked the 5 team of Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis for notes that he says helped the 48 with their set-up. Of course, fans know Kahne has been no stranger to success at Charlotte. Johnson’s crew chief joked about “stealing” the notes. That’s just being resourceful, and you can be sure Francis was more than happy to share.

It’s more than just money; three other NASCAR Sprint Cup teams also belong to Hendrick. As far as that goes, how many times do you see a more talented driver take over a ride that has struggled and suddenly with that new driver, they find success. The classic example is when Kyle Busch took over the 18 at Joe Gibbs Racing. They went from being an o.k. team under J.J. Yeley to a car that was at times, dominant in 2008. Look what Kurt Busch did in his short stint at Furniture Row, a lesser funded team. All this to say that Jimmie Johnson has to have talent to win races and championships year after year.

This is not to discount the part Rick Hendrick and his resources play in all this. A hand on, engaged owner, who is willing to put the right pieces in place and let his people do what they do well is sports ownership genius. Patriots owner Bob Craft gets it, Seahawks owner Paul Allen understands it, and Cowboy fans hope Jerry Jones gets it someday. It’s hard to make chicken salad out of chicken droppings. Hendrick makes his organization’s lot in life much either.

As the father of a pre-teen son who competes in youth sports, I see it all the time: parents and coaches look for that secret ingredient to success. They look for that one thing. Talent is at the base of it all, you can’t win without it, but talent isn’t enough. Money helps tremendously, but at least in the context of motorsports, all the money in the world can’t make a marginally talented driver great. You can work like a dog to make it all happen, but look how many very talented drivers struggle with rides that just can’t run with the best.

It takes it all: talent, hard work and a commitment of resources. You can get by without the money if there’s an extra commitment of time or ingenuity. In Johnson’s case, however, he’s got it all. He may not win the Cup this year, but he has served notice he’s in the running, and he will push the field. The top teams know it, winning is no accident with six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.