Johnson outside looking in

Jimmie Johnson has accumulated the most television on-screen time for his sponsors during the first nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of 2014. Johnson’s sponsors as a group appeared for more than 11 hours during live and replayed race broadcasts.

When one thinks of Johnson, the first thought typically wouldn’t be “Talladega Master,” given just 10 top-10 finishes in 24 starts at the superspeedway. If there’s one driver that has a shot to win any race he enters, it’s Johnson, and his average starting position of 10.1 is the best in the series. While he may not always be there at the end, the fact that he puts himself in good position from the get-go is something that has to be considered. Johnson was 10th in final Cup practice session Friday. Qualifying for Sunday’s race is at 1:10 p.m. today on FOX.

Johnson has one of the best crew chiefs in Chad Knaus. Knaus and Johnson have partnered for wins at Talladega in 2006 and 2011. Johnson has an average finish of 17th there and has recorded nine DNFs (did not finish) at the track.

The group of drivers at Hendrick Motorsports has dominated the restrictor-plate tracks for the past few years. Their engine program has set them apart from other Chevy teams and gained more horsepower over Ford and Toyota programs. Jeff Gordon has six wins at Talladega. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five.

Johnson has yet to be in a position to win a race this year. NASCAR revised its points system, placing more value on wins. Johnson stands eighth in the current points standings with three top 5s and five top 10 finishes. A win would go a long way to securing a spot in the 16-car field that will compete for the championship. The season is still early, but some of the tracks coming up in the schedule are not ones at which Johnson has recorded high finishes.

The six-time series champion needs to find the winner’s circle soon or he could be left out in the cold after the 26-race Chase For The Championship countdown is finished.

* TIRE TALK: Days after Sprint Cup champion contenders had issues with where the rubber meets the road in Richmond, series officials met with representatives from Michelin at the R&D Center in Concord, N.C. The timing of the meeting is coincidental considering the rash of failures experienced by competitors in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. According to a Michelin source, it was a “mid-level meeting.”

“It was generally a get-acquainted and get-familiar with the tech center, and some relationship building,” said the source. It likely also involved some regional and “grass roots” possibilities that could involve NASCAR and Michelin as partners. The Goodyear contract with NASCAR’s top three touring series runs through 2017.

* ROOKIE AGAIN: It’s been 14 years since Kurt Busch was last called a rookie. And even though Busch has a Sprint Cup championship trophy at home, he’s still a rookie open-wheel driver as far as the Indianapolis 500 is concerned. On Monday, Busch and four other drivers took part in the rookie orientation or veteran driver refresher course to be eligible to compete in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On Tuesday, Andretti Autosport unveiled the black-and-white No. 26 car that Kurt Busch in seeking to race in the Indy 500. He is attempting to become the fourth driver to race in the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

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