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Johnson’s Pocono finish may be telling

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 8, 2009

It’s days like Monday afternoon at Pocono that prove Jimmie Johnsoncan win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title.

Johnson was three laps down late in the race. He was 36th with 40 laps to go and 34th with 30 laps left. He had an engine problem the team couldn’t figure out.

And after all that, Johnson finished 13th in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, an astonishing comeback to make a respectable showing off a horrible situation.

That’s how you win championships.

“For us to salvage a 13th-place finish means a lot to me,” Johnson said. “I think we are going in the right direction. It shows me what my team is capable of and what I’m capable of going into the Chase.”

It took some time for crew chief Chad Knaus to figure out what was wrong with the No. 48 car at Pocono, but they did figure it out.

It took some time for crew chief Chad Knaus to figure out what was wrong with the No. 48 car at Pocono, but they did figure it out.

Johnson ran first or second in the first 100 laps of the 200-lap event before his engine started to sputter. He didn’t know what was wrong.

“OK buddy, check your switches,” crew chief Chad Knaus said calmly over the radio.

No help. Johnson had to pit. The 48 Chevy team lifted the hood, looking for a loose spark plug wire. No luck.

Johnson went back out and tried to stay on the lead lap until he could pit under caution, but Kasey Kahne quickly put Johnson a lap down.

The crew still was searching for answers. Johnson came in again and they changed the carburetor. Didn’t work. Another caution flew and they changed some of the spark plugs.

Bingo.

“After that, it ran,” Johnson said. “I knew we were about out of stuff to try. We lost another lap because it’s a time-consuming process and we could only get to a few [plugs]. I was hoping the problem was in one of the few we were able to reach. Luckily, it was.”

Five cautions in the last 50 laps enabled Johnson to get back on the lead lap with the lucky dog rule, but he raced his way past a gaggle of cars at the end.

Johnson was 25th on the final restart with 13 laps to go. His finish enabled Johnson to remain second in the Cup standings, 197 points behind leader Tony Stewart and two points ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon.

Speaking of making the most out of a bad day, Stewart finished 10th after starting in the back in his backup car. He was 28th after 80 laps.

“We were just really loose at the beginning,” Stewart said. “It was going to take big steps to fix. We finally just made a huge change and we got it closer, but we never got it right. We made the best of a bad situation.”

A good lesson for everyone with championship hopes.

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