Tag:Jimmie Johnson
Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:46 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 12:53 pm

Jimmie Johnson's title run is over

By Pete Pistone

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And then there were five…..

NASCAR’s “Dream Chase” has turned into a nightmare for more than half of the field through the first six races of the playoffs. 

As most predicted last week’s stop in Talladega provided a major jolt to the standings and as the series heads to tiny Martinsville Speedway this Sunday there are five drivers legitimately left in the championship race. 

Jimmie Johnson is not one of them.

Just 26 points separate Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, as the Chase moves toward race number seven. 

Johnson sits a distant seventh and fifty points off the pace. 

The run for a sixth straight title was put in major jeopardy in Talladega after a strategy to hang out in the back of the field with Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and draft to the front in the final stages backfired. 

The pair ran out of time and waited too long to make their move for the lead giving Johnson a 26th place finish and effectively ending his bid for championship number six. 

Quite frankly Johnson would need a miracle to find his way back into the title fight. 

For the record, Johnson defended the Talladega strategy even if it didn’t quite work out the way he’d anticipated and blamed circumstances for the outcome rather than poor planning. 

“We planned our strategy like we had hoped to,” Johnson said. “And on that last restart at the end; we had some issues with my car overheating. That last caution that came out I got some trash and grass and stuff on the grill of the car. We were out of sequence the way we were lined up. 

“I was going to push Junior and I had to be in the lead the way we had the debris on the grill. And then as we went to make our switch, the pack was organized and with the green-white-checkered situation, there’s not a lot of time to get organized and we lost our momentum there and got to the outside and kind of stalled out up on the top and finished far worse than we had hoped to.”

Johnson also didn’t concede the championship either and despite the monumental challenge he now faces hasn’t given up in the quest to add to his history-making run. 

“We’ve just got to keep fighting and keep working on getting every point we can at every race,” Johnson said. “We have no clue what’s going to happen to all the Chase drivers and I want to finish as high as I possibly can in the Chase. That does mean the championship.” 

Johnson’s attitude is to be admired but the reality of the situation is too much to overcome. 

Under the old point system that was used before this year’s simpler 43-1 distribution plan, Johnson would be just about 141 markers out of the lead. He did come back from 146 back with five races to go in his 2006 march to the title and followed that up in 2007 when he won four straight races inside the final five. 

But even if he were to go on a similar hot streak this season he’d need six others currently ahead of him in the championship picture to all falter down the stretch. 

It’s a possibility for one or two of them to have difficulties in the next four race but probably wishful thinking that all six will self-destruct even for the most ardent Johnson fan. 

However some of Johnson’s competitors aren’t ready to wave the white flag for the 48 team just yet. 

"Anything is possible," said Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon. "If you're a good enough team, then it's possible, and that's what makes them so dangerous. They are capable of pulling those types of finishes together when you might not expect it. There are a couple of other teams out there that are capable of doing that as well. You can't count anybody out yet." 

Even the man on top of the heap isn’t ruling anything out remembering Johnson’s impossible come back in 2006. 

"It is possible," said Edwards, who finished 11th at Talladega and was able to stretch his lead to fourteen over second place Kenseth. "I feel like we have had a run like that the last five races, but not as good as that run. It is so competitive right now.

“I think it will be more difficult for someone to have that blistering run where they knock off four or five top-threes or -fours in a row, but it is possible. The problem is, it is possible for six or eight guys to do it. So it comes down to circumstance and luck and strategy. I hope we are the guys that can do that, but I believe it is more competitive now. I will just leave it at that."

Johnson has been nothing short of spectacular throughout his five year reign as NASCAR champion. But as Halloween weekend approaches even he won’t be able to bring this year’s title hopes back from the grave. 

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @ppistone on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. 

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: October 18, 2011 2:57 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 5:57 pm

Idle Thoughts: IndyCar doesn't need to lose ovals

By Pete Pistone

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(Jimmie Johnson's suggestion that all oval tracks come off the Indy Car schedule takes things too far.)

The sad part of Sunday’s horrific IZOD IndyCar Series accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is that it wasn’t the first time.

The shear volume of the 15-car crash that subsequently took the life of Dan Wheldon may have been the largest number of cars involved in one of these high speed melees, but unfortunately the series has a long history of spectacular accidents when racing at intermediate-sized ovals.

Jimmie Johnson for one has seen enough.

"I wouldn't run them on ovals," Johnson said. “Those cars are fantastic for street circuits and road courses.” 

While the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion's assessment might be a bit too drastic, he may at least have a point in terms of the mid-sized tracks that quite honestly were built for stock cars and not open-wheel racing. 

Since the birth of the Indy Racing League after the split from CART in the mid-1990s, IndyCar racing migrated to a schedule heavily weighted to high-banked oval tracks. From the outset it was clear the racing product was among the most sensational in all of motorsports featuring breath taking three and four wide competition as well as a string of photo finishes. 

But it also was one of the most dangerous forms of racing on the planet.

While Wheldon’s death was the first in the series since Paul Dana’s practice crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006, the violent wreck was the latest in a long line of accidents that have marred the sport’s legacy. 

Kenny Brack somehow survived one of the scariest moments in racing history when he became airborne at Texas Motor Speedway in a 2003 IRL race. Brack’s car literally disintegrated after flying into the track’s backstretch catch fence before coming to rest in a pile of smoldering parts and pieces. 

“I really don’t remember too much except that feeling of helplessness when the car went up in the air,” said Brack, who returned to the sport after recovering from his injuries before finally retiring. “Once a race car becomes airborne it’s really just in the hands of a higher being.” 

Current Penske Racing driver Ryan Briscoe shared a Brack-like moment at Chicagoland Speedway in 2005. 

Briscoe touched wheels with Alex Gurney as they raced through turns three and four at the 1.5-mile oval and his car was launched into the SAFER Barrier wall breaking into two and then catching fire.

Briscoe’s injuries included two broken collarbones, a bruised lung, concussion and cuts to his legs and arms. 

“I remember the initial contact with Alex and thought that we might just get away with not hitting the wall, but suddenly I was airborne and the rest is a little fuzzy," Briscoe said. 

By far the worst example of how dangerous racing open wheel cars on high banked oval tracks came in 1998 and 1999 when debris from on track crashes went into the grandstands and took the lives of spectators. 

Adrian Fernandez hit the wall in a July of 1998 CART race at Michigan International Speedway sending a tire and part of his car’s suspension into the stands killing three spectators. 

The following year an IRL crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway involving John Paul Sr., Stan Wattles and Scott Harrington sent debris over the front stretch catch fence and into stands also taking the lives of three spectators. 

But despite the tragedies and potentially dangerous situations, Indy cars continue to race on tracks like Las Vegas. 

However the time may have finally come to disband the idea altogether. 

I’m conflicted in even writing that line. Less than two weeks ago I proposed the league add more oval track races and pursue an alignment with additional NASCAR weekends to generate more exposure. The scintillating action at the race before Vegas in Kentucky was among the most thrilling I’ve seen in recent years. 

There is no arguing the IndyCar product on intermediate ovals is tremendous. Sadly we now realize too late the risk outweighs the reward.

Racecar drivers are a unique breed of people, somehow able to put tragedy in the rear view mirror and continue to go about their business.

“I’m ready to go to work,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said at Monday’s fuel injection test in Charlotte. “There are things we’ve got to accomplish today, and we’ll try to see what we can get done. … I drive race cars for a living. That’s what I’m here to do. 

“Racing is just a dangerous sport. It’s a dangerous thing to do. It can never be safe enough, but I like my chances.” 

But in some cases those chances might be able to be improved. The IndyCar Series now faces that decision. 

In reality that is the direction the series has been heading. Next year’s schedule, although not officially released, includes only five ovals with the Indianapolis 500 the cornerstone as well as stops in Fontana, Texas, Iowa and Las Vegas.

But completely eradicating ovals from the circuit is too much of a knee jerk reaction. The series can put on entertaining and competitive races at venues that don’t generate as much speed or danger like Las Vegas or similar mid-size tracks. 

Flat and shorter ovals like Milwaukee, New Hampshire, Gateway or Richmond -– all places the series has run many times –- provide great opportunities for close competition while maintaining a more solid oval presence on the schedule. 

But every one of those facilities have been taken off the schedule for one reason -– poor attendance. Despite a compelling product, oval track operators for the most part have not been able to make an IndyCar race profitable given the embarrassing fan turnout in most cases. 

I think IndyCar officials need to keep oval track racing at the core of the series. After all its biggest race -- in fact the biggest race in the world -- is held on the famed Brickyard oval every May.  

Maybe more promotional efforts and marketing support like what was poured into the Las Vegas event will help build the audience for races in Milwaukee or Gateway or New Hampshire.  But with money and the economy still dictating the sport's direction, the opportunity to focus more resources on those events most likely isn't there.

So like it or not, the IndyCar Series with its next generation race cars set to debut next season is more than likely headed down a path of having the Indy 500 anchor a schedule of grand prix racing, with road courses and street circuits comprising the bulk of the calendar. 

That may be a lot safer but whether or not it’s a success is going to be a major question.

For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @ppistone on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. 

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Posted on: October 17, 2011 4:33 pm

Jimmie Johnson wants Indy Cars off ovals

By Pete Pistone

Whether or not Jimmie Johnson’s crash Saturday night in Charlotte ultimately ends his quest for a sixth straight championship remains to be seen. 

What we thankfully didn’t have to wait for was Johnson climbing from his battered car more or less uninjured after the frightening accident. 

Johnson was moving around pretty well during Monday’s fuel injection test at Charlotte Motor Speedway and spent some time addressing the safety of NASCAR as well as the rest of the racing world in light of the Indy Car Series tragedy in Las Vegas that took the life of Dan Wheldon. 

After watching the horrific accident unfold, Johnson’s take away is the current Indy Car configuration simply does not belong on high speed oval tracks like LVMS no matter the safety initiatives.

"I wouldn't run them on ovals," Johnson said bluntly. “Why do we run restrictor plates? It’s so the cars stay on the ground. It doesn’t matter the type of race car, if it’s off the ground, you cannot control it in an accident. [Indy] cars are going so fast and get airborne so frequently on ovals that I wouldn’t run them on ovals. There is just no need to.” 

Johnson believes Indy Cars have a place in the racing landscape but that series officials should focus on a different venue rather than the high-speed oval. 

Although at fifteen it may have been one of the biggest accidents in series history in terms of car count, it wasn’t the first time Indy cars have become airborne at tracks like Las Vegas. 

“Those cars are fantastic for street circuits and road courses,” Johnson said. “The ovals at those speeds, you can’t control the vehicle when it’s off the ground. There’s very little crumple zone around the driver, and obviously it’s an open cockpit and then you add open wheels. You’re just creating situations to get the car off the ground at a high rate of speed.” 

It is Johnson’s hope that some good comes out of the melee and Wheldon’s death. 

"I hate, hate, hate that this tragedy took place,” he said. “But hopefully they can learn from it and make those cars safer on ovals somehow. I don't know how they can really do it. Myself, I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I'd just rather see them on street circuits and road courses – no more ovals."

Johnson by no means believes NASCAR racing is completely safe or free of risking injury or even death. But his trip into the Charlotte wall was a reminder of just how far the safety initiatives inside stock car racing have come.

“We know what the risks are and the risk factor to driving an open-wheel car is multiplied by ten," Johnson said. "Yes, that threat exists. But I feel like NASCAR has worked hard to keep speeds down, we have devices on the vehicles to keep them on the ground. We don't have those types of crashes. 

"I'm not saying the perfect storm couldn't take place and we couldn't get a couple off the ground. ... But I just don't see our cars having the same issue. I don't see the chance anywhere in the ballpark as those open-wheel cars."

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: October 16, 2011 12:34 am
Edited on: October 16, 2011 1:09 am

Speed Read: Charlotte

By Pete Pistone



Matt Kenseth has made a career of flying under the radar while being successful.

That description pretty much sums up his Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Despite winning the Bank of America 500, Kenseth’s story wasn’t completely unnoticed but was definitely the second biggest of the night. 

Jimmie Johnson’s hard crash with 25 laps to go and how the ensuing 34th place finish may have ended his sixth straight title quest was the headline story. 

Johnson’s violent wreck into the backstretch wall after losing control of his car racing for the seventh spot stunned the Charlotte crowd of over 100,000. It wasn’t until he first crawled from his battered racecar and the subsequently walked out of the infield care center thankfully uninjured did the ramifications of what happened start to sink into the Chase picture. 

After crawling back to within three points of the lead with his Kansas win a week ago, Johnson suddenly now finds himself in eighth place, a whopping 34 markers behind Carl Edwards with only five races to go. 

“We just have to keep racing,” Johnson said after limping slightly out of the care center. “That’s all there is to it. There’s five races left, and a lot can happen in five races.” 

Much has been made about how Johnson not dominating this season or the Chase has helped NASCAR gain more awareness and exposure. Many believe a more wide open playoff run without Johnson pulling away to an easy sixth straight title would be better for the sport in overall interest. 

Those folks are about to get their wish. 

Johnson will now have to write the ultimate chapter to his championship legacy and put together one of the all-time come backs in NASCAR history. 

For what it’s worth, his fellow competitors aren’t ready to write Johnson out yet. 

“It can happen to any of us, so obviously the more points we can get on the guys in the Chase the better, but that can happen to anyone,” said Edwards. “He could go on a tear and be leading the points in three to four weeks. That could happen, too. So I don’t ever count him out.” 

Whether he’s successful or not there’s one certainty – Johnson’s performance over the next five races will be anything but under the radar.



Kyle Busch 

Nearly pulled off a worst to first story but was forced to come up one position short of ending his Sprint Cup Series career October drought. But Busch remained firmly in the championship hunt with his performance and may have provided his team with just the dose of confidence and momentum it had been lacking in the early going of the playoffs.

Kasey Kahne 

Kahne is making a habit out of running upfront and challenging for wins despite not being a factor in the championship. Made a tremendous come back late in Saturday night’s race to come home with another impressive Top 5 finish and stay in the picture as a potential race winner before the season runs out. 

Kevin Harvick 

Somehow managed to finish sixth for a second straight week despite a multitude of problems not in the least of which an bad handling car. But Harvick remained squarely in the title fight trailing Carl Edwards by a mere five points and heading to Talladega, where he has been a dominant force in the last two seasons.



Brad Keselowski 

A rough weekend all the way around for Keselowski who qualified 26th and was stuck in the middle of the field all night long. A strange turn of events for the Blue Deuce team after a strong showing at Charlotte in May and a good run at the 1.5-mile in Kansas last Sunday. Keselowski’s Cinderella story may be coming to an end after Saturday night. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.  

Even the most loyal Junior fan has to see his chances at winning a championship are over after his dismal night in Charlotte. Earnhardt had a middle of the pack car to begin with and had things compounded by a loose wheel and return trip to pit road in the closing stages. About all Earnhardt can do in the final five races of the year is throw complete caution to the wind and shoot for victories since points are meaningless at this point. 

Jimmie Johnson 

His violent crash handed Johnson a 34th place finish, the worst Chase result since he was credited with a 39th at Texas two years ago when he was involved in an early incident with Sam Hornish Jr. Johnson sunk 35 points out of the lead and now has the biggest challenge of his championship reign ahead in the final five races of the season.



(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs) 

"Go ahead and cross your fingers and rub your lucky charms. That's about it right here." – Kurt Busch 

"We'll get it back, we'll get it back. We've got plenty of time. We're plenty fast." – Greg Biffle after going a lap down

"I'd like to disassemble the front suspension and throw it in the lake." – Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

"I don't know what the hell to tell you." – Jeff Gordon to crew chief Alan Gustafson on his early race problems

"That's a reminder to hold on to everything.'' – Carl Edwards to his crew after watching Brian Vickers drag a jack out of his pit stall on an early pit stop 



On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 a three. The early going was pretty uneventful and the night had the look of yet another fuel mileage strategy race. But the latter stages were filled with side by side racing after several restarts and tremendous drama regarding the championship picture in the aftermath of Johnson’s hard crash and the come back performances by Busch and Harvick in particular. Like most sports events it’s how things finish that matters and the Charlotte race provided a very memorable ending.



What most believe to be the biggest wild card of the championship race is on deck next Sunday with the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. But there’s another new wrinkle to the restrictor plate race in the form of new rules implemented by NASCAR. Larger restrictor plates and a tweak of the engine cooling system were put into play by the sanctioning body in an effort to break up the two-car tandems that have infiltrated racing at Talladega and Daytona. Based on a recent survey at Daytona, the majority of fans don’t like the new style racing. So the guessing game is on regarding how the new policies will impact the competition – and in turn the Chase picture.


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Posted on: October 13, 2011 5:29 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 5:29 pm

Earnhardt Jr. focused on winning, not teammates

By Pete Pistone

Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be 43 points out of the Chase lead but he's not ready to roll over and allow any other driver including teammate Jimmie Johnson to gain points racing for position.

Earnhardt says he's still focused on trying to win races and will of that at any cost, even if it means racing Johnson for the top spot despite the fact the 48 team is shooting for a sixth straight title. 

If I am racing for the win, he is going to have to race me pretty hard," Earnhardt said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We are pretty thirsty right now for a win. You just handle it when the situation comes up and I feel like I am a pretty smart driver and I know what is on the line for some of these guys and I just think I’m a smart guy and I can make a smart decision and make the right decision when the time comes and I won’t need any help from (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) or anyone else to know when the time is right, I like to race, I like to race from every position, but at the same time, you do what you think is right and what you think is the right decision at the time.

However Earnhardt did add that some circumstances could dictate providing a little help for Johnson if need be.

"It is just a case by case scenario," Earnhardt said. "If you are running in the back, and he needs a point, that might be reasonable to give him 24<sup>th</sup>, when it is all said and done. We race out of the same shop and I got the same guys as he does putting my cars together so we work as a group and as a team in several aspects of the sport, but when it comes to racing in the top ten and top five I think you have to race hard and for those positions.”


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Posted on: October 13, 2011 12:35 pm
Posted on: October 9, 2011 8:15 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 9:56 pm

Johnson, Knaus, Hendrick post Kansas comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, just an awesome performance for the Lowe's team top to bottom.  Very proud to have won 55 races and tie Rusty Wallace.  That is a huge, huge honor.  Very proud, too, to win Rick his 199th win for Hendrick Motorsports, and also we helped Chevrolet clinch the manufacturer's championship today.  So huge day, and also just very fortunate to drive for Rick and Chad and drive this race car.

That race car was on the money today.  Our pit stops on pit road were phenomenal, and we ran really well at Chicago and didn't get the finish we kind of deserved there because the fuel mileage, and we came here and backed it up with another strong performance on mile and a halfs.

Very excited going forward into the remaining mile and a half tracks starting with Charlotte next week, and we'll just keep fighting.  This thing isn't going to be over until Homestead.  We came a long way from the opening race, or New Hampshire for that matter, but it's still a lot of racing left.  

Q.  Mr. Hendrick, we'd like to talk to you and tell us how you're feeling today.  You're at 199, just one shy away from that 200th win.  How does that feel being here with Jimmie today?

RICK HENDRICK:  It's unbelievable to be this close to the 200 mark, but what an awesome day for Jimmie and Chad and the Lowe's team.  I thought we were going to get it at Dover, so I'm definitely not going to miss any races coming up here.  I missed 150 when we did that; I was in the hospital with my dad.

But I'm just really proud of these guys.  A lot of people had said the magic was gone, and you look at Dover and then you look at this race today, and they just put their heads down when it counts and get the job done.  I'm really proud of them, and Jimmie said it:  I don't think we'll know who's going to win this thing until the last lap at Homestead with this points system.  Anything can happen.

THE MODERATOR:  Chad, talk a little bit about your strategy today, how far you guys have come in this Chase and how good it feels to be sitting here today.

CHAD KNAUS:  Yeah, I'm really proud and happy with the performance we had today.  Definitely the car wasn't where it needed to be on Friday.  We wanted to qualify a lot better than what we did, and unfortunately we just couldn't get it.  Yesterday was a tough day; the wind was blowing and it was difficult to figure out exactly what the car was doing.  But Jimmie was very dedicated last night with us to try to figure out the setup of the car, and Greg Iles, who's our lead engineer, we poured over a lot of data and a lot of information and came up with some good solutions obviously.
Ron Malec and the guys did a great job of putting that setup in the race car and making sure that it was going to last the full 400 miles, and it was a great day.  Couldn't be prouder of everybody on pit road and everybody back at HMS. 

Q.  Jimmie and Chad, your eye is always on the big prize, the championship, but how much did the 21-race drought play upon you guys?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I can't say that I've known the number or thought about a number.  I look at this year, and there's probably three or four opportunities to win that come to mind that we just didn't take advantage of, and that's on everybody's back.  I've messed up, we've had pit road issues, we've had a lot of little things go wrong, and we've had a lot of second-place finishes that should have been wins.

The competitor in all of us, we've known that we've been close.  So yeah, we want to win and we want a lot more wins to start the Chase for bonus points, but it's been more about missed opportunity than really a number of races that we haven't won.  I'm shocked that 21 is the longest.  I didn't realize -- that doesn't sound like many races to me.  What was our longest streak prior?  Someone will know. 

Q.  What is it about Kansas here?  In 2008 your win really kind of propelled you to that championship, and last year even a second place got you the lead that you held down the stretch.  Is this kind of the place that you jump off on?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Well, I think on track it's just slick and tough to get the car perfect, and you have to adapt.  There are a lot of really good lines that you can choose from around the racetrack from the top to the bottom, and when I have the tools to use on the track, I seem to do a better job in the race car.  Trying different lines and braking techniques, pick the throttle up in different areas, there's just a lot that you can do on a track like this.  And I think that's a big part of it, what's helped us, especially in race qualifying.  I know that we've been able to sit on poles here with the old car, but of late that's not really been our strong suit, but the racing has been just fine for us.

CHAD KNAUS:  It's a really fun racetrack.  It incorporates a lot of the needs of a real race car.  You have to have great horsepower, and fortunately enough we do with the Hendrick engine program, and then when it really comes down to it, you have to have a good aero base and a good mechanical grip base because the tire falloff is high, tires make a difference, so you've got to make sure that the driver and the car is able to go out there and go fast enough and not abuse the tires, and I think we do a good job of that typically.  And I think that's part of the reason why tracks like here, the old Darlington, the old Charlotte, Atlanta, tracks like that, that we do pretty well. 

Q.  I was talking to Pohlman, Montoya's chew chief.  He was talking about how long a day it was for their group because of car issues and this and that.  By contrast, when you have, as you put it, an awesome day, does your sense of the length of the race seem to shrink, or does it still take a lot out of you emotionally and physically?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  All those cautions at the end tacked on about 200 miles in my book.  It just -- you're in a rhythm, we had a big lead that I could manage, and then it's time to start over.  The first one we came to pit road, which I wasn't sure what to really do there.  I was afraid to give up track position.  Chad made a great call to bring me to pit road to get rights.  And then we're coming around, and I'm like, all I wanted to see was the white.  That's all I wanted to see, and I came around and I saw the yellow, like coming to the white.  At that point you've got to buckle down and figure out how to get a good restart and put in two good laps.  That whole process makes for a long race.

But speaking to your point with the 42, when the car is off and you're struggling, it just -- the race can't get over soon enough. 

Q.  I have one for Jimmie and one for Chad.  For Jimmie, were you aware at all of the kind of small struggles Kevin was having and the big struggles Carl was having and are you surprised to them up there at the end, and for Chad, Carl's team made an adjustment from final practice to before the race that didn't work.  Can you just talk about the balance that crew chiefs face of even if you know you have a good car, making adjustments knowing that everybody else will pass you if you don't?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I lapped the 99, and then we -- 29 was right there in front of me at one point in the race.  So for those two to both bounce back and finish where they did did surprise me.  I thought we were going to have a huge day on both those guys, and it ended up being just a small day on them. 

Q.  Jimmie, Kasey said that you surprised him with how early you went on that last restart.  Was that the plan or a spur-of-the-moment thing, and were you thinking about that restart given the difficulty that you had with the last two restarts at Dover?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, I mean, just win.  I made sure I picked the lane that wasn't dirty going into turn 1 with all the kitty litter that we had down.  That was it, just hit the gas and go. 

Q.  I guess for both Jimmie and Chad, you talked about those missed opportunities.  What was the difference today?  I mean, obviously you had a great car.  Was it just that?  Was it the pit stops?  Was it making the right calls? Could you guys just kind of touch on why you guys were able to maximize it today versus the missed opportunities you've had in the last year?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I'm not going to tell you exactly why.  I hope you understand why.  But it's just -- there's just days when you have the strength across the board, you can control the race, and I think we saw it yesterday with Brad in the Nationwide race, and I think we had a similar situation today.

Kasey was coming.  He was on four tires, where we were on two.  I didn't know that until post-race, so I feel a lot better about the speed that we had and the way things worked out.  It was just one of those days where we had strength in all areas and could capitalize on it. 

Q.  For Chad, can you talk about the balance of having a good car but needing to make changes before the race knowing that if you don't, everybody else will just catch and pass you?

CHAD KNAUS:  Yeah, it's -- I wish you guys could feel the pain sometimes to be quite honest with you.  I'm sure it's a lot easier to write about than it is to actually do.

The race car that we've got now is extremely fickle, and it's very difficult to sometimes get the balance of a race car, and then once you get it, it's very easy to lose it.  For instance, Friday, we were extremely, extremely tight, made huge, huge swings with the race car to try to free it up and couldn't do it in practice.  So getting ready to qualify, we made just I think three super tiny changes to the car and just said, okay, let's just go and see what happens, and the car went extremely, extremely loose, and obviously qualified 19th, which was obviously subpar.

So it's very, very difficult.  Today, for instance, half round on the panner bar and half pound of air pressure would take the car from tight to loose, so it's very fickle, it's very difficult to tune these race cars, and it's very stressful for all the crew chiefs.  Kenny Francis sent me a text last night as soon as practice was over with, he said, Damn, these cars are frustrating, and it's the truth, and it's tough.  I wish people realized and knew how tough it really was. 

Q.  Is there a satisfaction in today in the Chase?  I know better than to ever count you out, but you've heard some of the naysayers over there, and here you are just four points off, and there's a lot of racing to go.  Is there a satisfaction for people who might have jumped to conclusions a little early?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff.  I mean, the -- if you're watching and reading all the headlines, you can get caught up in a lot of stuff that just really isn't important stuff, and I've known in my heart the speed that we've had as a race team when we were in Chicago and unfortunately finished 10th because of fuel mileage.  I know we were a heck of a lot better than 18th at New Hampshire but the damage to the car put us in 18th, Dover we were strong, and then here.

Again, I don't pay attention to that stuff that's out there, and I live in my little world, and I know what my team is capable of.  We showed today what we're capable of when all things -- when we're all performing at the top of our game, and hopefully we can do that for six more weeks. 

Q.  You've won this a number of times.  How much is luck involved?  I mean, Carl was talking about a lot of luck that put him where he was today.  For you, does that all have to bounce the right way to win this whole thing, too?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, it is involved.  At Talladega if you get caught up in something, you can certainly say that's bad luck.  If you get a flat tire for running something over on the track you can call it bad luck.  But you've got to be careful when you blame things on just bad luck because you do create your own luck, and that's why we're so focused on trying to qualify better because qualifying 19th you put yourself in a bad-luck area.  So that's where we try to be honest with ourselves in what is bad luck and what is just not performing right that puts you in that position. 

Q.  Could you speak to the misfortune that hit the 24 team today and how that may affect your stretch run? And for Chad, what was the thought that flashed through your head --

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I didn't know the 24 blew up until post-race, so I'm glad these guys didn't tell me during the race.

Q.  Chad, I was going to ask you the first thought that flashed through your head in the box when that caution flew?

CHAD KNAUS:  Expletive.

RICK HENDRICK:  You know, the 24 was really good today, and we have been very fortunate with no engine issues.  For whatever reason, the oil temperature went peg to gauge, and we knew we were in trouble.  You know, nothing you could do at that point, so something went wrong.  And I hate it for those guys because they had some really good momentum, but parts are going to break, and we've got to go home now and figure out what started it and try to make sure it doesn't happen again, and our guys are really good about doing that.

You know, I think Alan and Jeff had some really good momentum, good cars, and there's still a lot of racing left, and there's -- you just don't know what's going to happen.  But when I see one of the cars have a problem, boy, it makes you tighten up a little bit.  But knowing that the oil temperature was pegged, we knew that there was something else going on.  I don't know what happened, but we'll find out. 

Q.  Chad, I may have this wrong, but at one point near the end of the race did you radio Jimmie about a fuel situation?  And to follow up, Jimmie, what did you think when you heard about that?

CHAD KNAUS:  It really all depended on how the race was going to play out.  We were, I think, four laps short right after whatever caution it was, and we were going to have to save fuel.  We were going to have to go.  Jimmie jumped out for about five laps, ran pretty hard, and then at that point we were going to start backing him off.  But then the caution came out shortly thereafter, so it really was a non-issue at that point.

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, and then the 14 was sitting there in second or something at the time, and I thought, man, this is just going to fall right in his lap.  This is one of those things that he's really good at.  I started right away -- even though we were putting up fast laps, I started early to make sure that if we had to go I could hopefully stretch it as far as the 14 could.

The way I look at it, if he could make it, I could make it.  Same stuff, I've just got to get better at it. 

Q.  We take it for granted now that it's Ford versus Chevrolet, and unless we can poke Jack Roush with a big stick, nobody even pays much attention to Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and all that, but you won the manufacturer's championship today.  What does that mean today in the big scheme of things?  What does it mean?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I didn't hear the first part if it was for Rick or me.  I'll take it.  It means a lot.  Chevrolet is a huge partner at Hendrick Motorsports.  We're a marketing tool for them, and the fact that we're out winning on Sundays will hopefully sell cars on Monday, like we've always discussed.  It's a proud moment for myself.  All I've ever raced is a Chevrolet, so to be part of them winning another manufacturer's championship means a lot to me personally, and I'm a Chevy dealer.  Rick obviously has a lot of dealerships, and the pride that -- what we do on the racetrack and how we carry ourselves, how we win races and championships, we can feel that energy in the store.  It really does help the brand.  So happy to do it. 
Q.  Jimmie and Chad, both you guys were very complimentary today on the radio about the pit crew, and it didn't seem like there was any stops that were off at all.  That's a pretty stark contrast to a year ago.  What's it been like to shore that part of the game up and knowing that going down the stretch that doesn't seem like that's going to be an area you're going to have to worry about?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  It is a very comforting feeling to pull down pit road and know that we have pit road shored up.  The confidence that they have in one another now and how well they're working together, all we're hopeful to do is maintain.  It's a tough environment on pit road, and we understand, and we're asking these guys to change tires in 12 and a half seconds.  Our goal was to stop the bleeding from what we had last year, and then we started this year and we had some issues, and we got that bleeding stopped, and now the chemistry and the ability of these guys that they've had some time together is phenomenal.  They've been really, really strong on pit road.  It's nice to pull into pit road with a smile on my face and looking for an opportunity to go forward.  It certainly changes the race round for you. 

Q.  Mr. Hendrick, you've got dealerships right here in Kansas City --

RICK HENDRICK:  I hope you buy your cars there. 

Q.  Are you able to get over there like on Saturday to any of them, and what does this mean here in Kansas City for Jimmie to win?

:  It's huge.  We had a -- I think 200 tickets here, and I came out Thursday night, and I visited the stores Friday and Saturday, and I'm staying over tonight to visit Superior Chevrolet and Superior Toyota and the Acura store in the morning, and it'll be a fun Monday.
These folks here, they have -- I'm real proud of the dealerships here.  They do a great job.  And it's like they're family, and they love it.  You know, we try to get them here and have contests for them to come to the racetracks, and they have banners and all have trophies in the stores.  It's huge.  This is a great place for us, and I think the fans in our dealerships here are as strong as they are anywhere in the country. 

Q.  How many stores do you have here?

RICK HENDRICK:  I've got -- I have to count them.  I think it's about nine. 

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 7:34 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 9:59 pm

Speed Read: Kansas

By Pete Pistone

  Jimmie Johnson, Driver Of The #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Celebrates



KANSAS CITY, Kan. – If you believe the moon is made of green cheese than those Jimmie Johnson’s done stories were right up your alley.

But for those of us who live in the world of reality, there was never a doubt that despite falling 29 points out of the lead after two races of the Chase Johnson would still be a factor.

Sunday’s dominating performance at Kansas Speedway was just a subtle reminder of why counting Johnson out of any Sprint Cup title scenario is a complete fantasy.

But Johnson insists that he doesn’t listen to the naysayers who had written him off nor does he plan to in the future.

“No, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff,” Johnson said.  “I mean, the -- if you're watching and reading all the headlines, you can get caught up in a lot of stuff that just really isn't important stuff, and I've known in my heart the speed that we've had as a race team when we were in Chicago and unfortunately finished 10th because of fuel mileage.  I know we were a heck of a lot better than 18th at New Hampshire but the damage to the car put us in 18th, Dover we were strong, and then here.”

All Johnson is concerned about, if he has any concerns that is, is the performance of his team. Sunday’s effort was exactly what he knew could happen if the 48 team performed to its fullest.  

“Again, I don't pay attention to that stuff that's out there, and I live in my little world, and I know what my team is capable of,” he said.  “We showed today what we're capable of when all things -- when we're all performing at the top of our game, and hopefully we can do that for six more weeks.”

Six more weeks like Sunday in Kansas will add up to championship number six.



Kasey Kahne

Chaser or non-Chaser, Kahne has perhaps been the most impressive driver in the first four races of the playoffs. Turned in another solid performance and neatly pulled off a win before Johnson was able to pull away on the final restart. The Kansas casino won’t be open until next year or else I’d have laid a bet that Kahne would get to victory lane before the season ends.

Brad Keselowski

Pretty good weekend in Kansas for Keselowski with his Nationwide Series win on Saturday and a third place run on Sunday. That comes on the heels of his June victory in the STP 400. Keselowski pulled to fourth in the standings and is now only eleven points behind with another 1.5-mile at Charlotte Motor Speedway awaiting on Saturday night.

Carl Edwards

If Edwards wins this year’s championship, he can look back at his come back in Kansas as a reason why. Was completely out of contention and a lap back at halfway only to fight back for a fifth place finish. Edwards was predicted by many as the clear choice to win on Sunday and could have walked away from Kansas hoping for a “mulligan.” Instead his perseverance gave him the Chase lead with four races down.



Jeff Gordon

What looked like it was going to be a solid day and continued success at Kansas turned into disaster for Gordon. He ran with the leaders in the first half but a bad set of tires dropped him back in the final third of the race before an engine blew to knock him out of the race and to a 34th place finish and to tenth in the Chase, a whopping 46 points out of the lead.

Martin Truex Jr.   

A broken axle, the same issue that plagued his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate David Reutimann, sidelined Truex Jr. after he ran near the front of the field in the early going. While there was euphoria around the MWR organization this weekend with the announcement of Clint Bowyer joining the team next year, there is clearly much work to be done in order for the now three-car stable to step up in 2012.

A.J. Allmendinger

Time is beginning to run out on his quest to join this year’s first-time winners club as member number six. Surprisingly uncompetitive on Sunday and with so many more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the season, Richard Petty Motorsports has some work to do based on the performance at Kansas.



(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)

"You almost looked like Brad Keselowski out there.'' – Chad Knaus to Jimmie Johnson early in the race

"I appreciate you taking a big stab at it, Bob. If we can get it right, we'll drive through the field." – Carl Edwards to crew chief Bob Osborne

"I'm in a (&(#&( hurry, I've got (stuff) to do.'' – Tony Stewart

"Good work there Kurt. Thanks for hanging in there.'' Kurt responds: "It's what I do.'' – Roger Penske and Kurt Busch

"It's (blanking) terrible. These adjustments have been terrible today." – Kevin Harvick



On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 a three. There wasn’t much going on for about two-thirds of Sunday’s race and the field was spread out in a single file line for the majority of the early going. But then as has been the case in so many races this year strategy kicked in and drama picked up. The late race caution to set up the green-white-checkered finish set the stage for an exciting finish that ended with Johnson winning but other stories like Kahne’s strong showing and Edwards’ come back. There will be a new Kansas awaiting teams next October after the reconfiguration project so the racing will most likely be different. Whether there’s drama like Sunday’s outcome remains to be seen.



The Chase moves to the halfway point with the only night race of the playoffs under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway next Saturday night. The first trip to Charlotte back in May featured major twists in turns in the closing laps that included a rash of fuel mileage strategies gone wrong. Now with the Chase making things more pressurized on a weekly basis it will be interesting to see what calculations are thrown into the October race’s mix. And of course there’s always just something about racing Sprint Cup cars in prime time that generates more intrigue.


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