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Not even adversity stops Johnson

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 6, 2009

The Pennsylvania 500 separated the Chasers from the boys.

With time running out to squeeze in one of just 12 positions, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne showed they didn’t want to be left behind when the Sprint Cup Series postseason begins five races from now.

Hamlin won Monday, Montoya and Kahne finished second and fifth, respectively, but it was three-time champion Jimmie Johnson who proved he was primed for defending his title after coming from three laps down to finish 13th and maintain second-place in the point standings, two markers ahead of his teammate Jeff Gordon and 197 points behind leader Tony Stewart.

If Johnson was nervous when a spark plug failed on Lap 105, he didn’t show it. Johnson stayed as calm behind the wheel as if he was lounging poolside with a cold one in his hand. Johnson’s composure remained intact as he carefully described the power draining from the No. 48 Chevrolet after he had led 22 laps early in the race.

Methodically, the team ran down the checklist of gremlins to address. After multiple pit stops, Johnson fell to 38th, three laps off the lead, on Lap 111 of 200. But he never wavered. Even as crew chief Chad Knaus became testy as NASCAR threatened to black-flag his driver for running under the minimum speed limit, Johnson never lost sight of the finish.

And luck was on Johnson’s side as multiple cautions allowed him to continue to pit for adjustments and regain laps through the free-pass rule. After the 10th caution on Lap 180, which was triggered when David Ragan ran into Bobby Labonte, Johnson was mired at 29th but on the lead lap. It took just 10 laps for him to climb 16 positions. Had Johnson not slipped into the Turn 2 wall with five laps to go, he believes he would have posted his 15th top 10 of the season.

Once again, Johnson salvaged what could have been a disastrous finish. Despite finishing 13th, he said his team’s effort “means a lot” to him.

“When we leave here and the dust settles, there’s a lot to be proud of,” Johnson said. “What I was hoping to see from the No. 48 team is coming around right now. This is what we need going into the Chase.

“I think we are going in the right direction and it shows to me what my team is capable of and I know what I’m capable of going into the Chase. Just a lot of fight in this race team. I’m very proud of them.”

Game changer

Denny Hamlin’s crew chief Mike Ford’s decision to take four tires on the last pit stop after the No. 11 Toyota slipped back on two tires made the difference Monday at Pocono Raceway.

Even when he was in sixth place with 15 laps to go, Hamlin predicted that he would win his third Pocono race. Sure enough, Hamlin passed race leader Clint Bowyer with 10 laps remaining and was then able to extend his lead as the cars behind him jockeyed for position.

Certainly, without a Hendrick-powered car running among the top five at the time, Hamlin knew he had an opportunity to display the gains Joe Gibbs Racing has made in the last six races.

“This is what we didn’t get to show last week at the Brickyard, what we didn’t get to show the first lap here in the summer race in June,” Hamlin said. “I think our race team has been really good the last couple months. I feel like we’ve been the closest car to Hendricks.

“I feel like we’re the best car other than the Hendrick cars. We’ve slowly but surely been working on it in the race shop and on pit road. We’ve been getting there slowly but surely.”

Hamlin’s first victory of the season broke a 50-race winless streak and enabled him to swap positions in the point standings with Carl Edwards again, to take over fifth place. He is currently 475 points out of first place and 251 points within the Chase Zone.

Say what?

Race winner Denny Hamlin made no excuses for dumping David Reutimann on Lap 174 when the No. 00 was running eighth. Hamlin, on fresh tires, obviously wanted the position.

“I was driving over my head, I had so many emotions,” Hamlin said in the postrace broadcast. “The race was halfway on my mind with the family stuff that’s going on … I tried to push him hoping he would straighten up. I kept foot in it and spun him out and ended up hurtin his Chase chances. I hate that.

Reutimann entered Pocono 13th in the point standings, just 68 points outside the top 12. If Reutimann was dreading Watkins Glen before Pocono, now that he’s dropped to 16th in the standings, 121 points out of the Chase, the No. 00 Toyota is in a world of hurt.

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Are Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus unbeatable?

Posted by Digory Kirke on July 29, 2009

Johnson 2009 winner of the Allstate Brickyard 400 at Indy

Johnson 2009 winner of the Allstate Brickyard 400 at Indy

Even the best drivers and team have their weaknesses.  Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Bobby Allison all encountered off-seasons.  Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Tony Stewart deal with struggles from time to time.  That does not seem to be the case with Jimmie Johnson and the 48 group.  Ever since Johnson’s rookie season in 2002 they have been as solid as any driver and team in recent history, as they own three titles and forty-three wins.

Johnson won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday, as he continues to add to his legacy.  Over the past four years, a few drivers and teams have challenged Johnson and the 48 group.  Since 2006, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Greg Biffle have posed threats to Johnson, but to no avail.  The No. 48 team continues to show no signs of passing the torch.

It appears as if the No. 48 bunch is immune to any valleys.  Most teams have their peaks and valleys.  Johnson is on a constant peak. Why does this seem to be the case?

Hardcore Jimmie Johnson fans staunchly agree that the driver makes the difference.  Others will contend that crew chief Chad Knaus is a mechanical mastermind, and his mind is gateway to Johnson’s ascendancy.  Most levelheaded observers agree that the combination of Johnson and Knaus is the reason for their recent dominance. Remember, prior to the 2002 season, Johnson and Knaus were relatively unknown to most NASCAR fans.

Johnson remains composed while enduring adversity.  He rarely loses his cool.  Many drivers lack this quality nowadays.  He provides adequate feedback as to the handling of the car.  On the rare occasion that he has an ill-handling car, instead of losing his head and trying to physically drive the car at an impracticable pace, he bides his time and relays to Knaus how the car is reacting to current track conditions.  That is when Knaus takes over.  He analyzes every angle and scenario, and eventually comes up with the perfect fix for an ill-handling car.

In most cases, opposing teams and drivers eventually figure out a balance, making some setups out of date.  Johnson and Knaus never settle for the same balance.  They constantly strive for a better feel for the car, even if they have an eight second lead on the competition.

As the Chase for the Championship approaches, it looks as if Jimmie Johnson is in prime position to earn an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship.  Of course, it is too early to crown him, but this is a typical Jimmie Johnson-type season.  Others take center stage throughout the regular season.  In 2007, it was Jeff Gordon.  Last year, it was Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.  This year, it has been Tony Stewart and Mark Martin.  Once the Chase begins, it becomes the Jimmie Johnson show.

Who can dethrone the champ?  Tony Stewart seems to be the best choice.  Stewart, as well as Jeff Gordon, have displayed systematic consistency throughout the season.  Kurt Busch and Mark Martin could emerge as potential threats.  If Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards qualify for the Chase, they are streaky drivers capable of surging that the perfect time.

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Chad Knaus named Wypall crew chief for Indianapolis race

Posted by Digory Kirke on July 29, 2009

NASCAR HOMESTEAD AUTO RACING

Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson, has been named the Wypall Wipers Crew Chief of the Race for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Allstate 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Johnson and the No. 48 team started the race in 16th position and moved into the top five before the first green-flag stop on lap 36. Johnson and Knaus worked on their car throughout the race and took the lead on a lap-137 restart and never relinquished it.

“Chad did some great things to the race car to start the race,” Johnson said. “I knew within about two turns that we were going to be very competitive today. Then the adjustments throughout the day were exactly what we needed.”

Bob Osborne, crew chief for Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards, Todd Berrier, crew chief for Richard Childress Racing’s Casey Mearsand Fox/Speed analyst Jeff Hammond, along with representatives from the sponsor, serve as the panel for the challenge. In addition to the $1,000 check, the winning crew chief will receive signage on his pit box the following week. The crew chief with the most weekly wins will be honored as the Wypall Wipers Crew Chief of the Year and will be presented a $20,000 check at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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Rick Hendrick is for HIRE!

Posted by Digory Kirke on July 13, 2009

Rick HendrickMr. Hendrick,

What is the point of having a race team when you give all of your parts to other teams, like Tony Stewart. He has dominated the races with your engines.

This is ridiculous.I guess it is all about money when you really step back and take a look at it.

I was very disappointed with the Coca Cola 400 held at Daytona on the 4th of July.Lately, I haven’t been excited about racing because I know that either Kyle Busch or Tony Stewart will be at the front and the Hendrick ‘TEAM’ will be struggling behind somewhere.

This is wrong to me and I hope that someone in the Hendrick company will knock some sense into Mr. Hendrick. Either be a parts distributor to all teams and not an owner or be an owner loyal to his team and concentrate on keeping the parts just for your team!!!!!!!!

Now I know some idiot is going to come along and say something along these lines:

HMS only sells/leases those engines and trannies to SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing). Same engine, same package. The difference is how you tune it and how you set up the car. Go to a motor shop, buy two identical engines and put them in two identical cars, they will perform differently based on the skill and needs, and personal likes of the two mechanics.

This argument would be false:

HMS not only sells the engine and transmissions, they also sell their chassis. Further we are not talking about the cars you drive day in and day out. We’re talking about stock cars. With the COT (Car of Tomorrow) there isn’t that much difference to play around like that. Therefore your selling your competition exactly what you have and what you have/had which has helped you dominate the competition in previous years.

So why is Rick Hendrick for hire?

With three time consecutive cup champion Jimmie Johnson in Hendrick’s stable one would think, hey that man (JIMMIE) is Hendrick’s bread and butter right now, a prime a cut. He’s only one of two men in the history of Nascar to accomplish this feat. He now stands on the cusp of making history this year by going for his fourth championship, and he is in the running to do just that. But Hendrick has a huge appetite, and is all about money over loyalty

The bottom line:

Mr. Hendrick someone needs to Gibbs (smack to the back of your head) you or better yet, put YOU into the wall!

Mr. Hendrick someone needs to Gibbs (smack to the back of your head) you or better yet, put YOU into the wall!

YOU SIR ARE A FRAUD!!

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Johnson on Top in Friday’s First Practice

Posted by Digory Kirke on July 11, 2009

Jimmie Johnson LifeLock 400 2009 Friday's First Practice

Jimmie Johnson LifeLock 400 2009 Friday's First Practice

Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson led the way in the first of Friday’s two NASCAR Sprint Cup practices at Chicagoland Speedway, pacing the session with a lap of 177.200 mph.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards was second at 176.881, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin at 176.725.

Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann and Roush Fenway’s Greg Biffle rounded out the top five, as Richard Petty Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne, JGR’s Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer, Red Bull Racing’s Brian Vickers and Hendrick’s Jeff Gordon completed the top 10.

One final practice remains Friday in preparation for LifeLock.com 400, which is scheduled to begin just after 8pm EDT Saturday.

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No. 48 team looks for redemption at Chicagoland

Posted by Digory Kirke on July 11, 2009

Chicagoland.193They lost the ’08 race to Kyle Busch in green-white-checkered finish, now Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are looking for redemption.

You don’t expect Jimmie Johnson to lose a race when he restarts from the top spot with two laps left, but that’s exactly what happened last year at ChicagolandSpeedway.

In a green-white-checkered finish, Kyle Busch raced to the lead to the outside of the No. 48 Chevrolet and kept Johnson winless at the 1.5-mile track. Like Joliet Jake of “The Blues Brothers” fame, Johnson will be on a mission when he returns to the speedway for Saturday night’s LifeLock.com 400.

That goes double for Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, from Rockford, Ill., who craves a win in his own backyard. Lack of a win at Chicagoland is especially frustrating given that, in seven starts at the venue, Johnson has finished second twice, third twice and fourth and sixth once each.

“We still haven’t gotten the win in Chicago, so we’ll be going after it this weekend,” Knaus said. “We always run well there — I think we’ve only finished outside the top five or so twice. But for some reason, things haven’t worked out for us yet to get to Victory Lane.

“We’re taking a good car — the one we had in Michigan [where Johnson led 146 of 200 laps at the two-mile track] when we ran out of gas. So maybe this is our year we can finally get a win near my hometown.”

Johnson is nearing several significant accomplishments this season. The only driver in the modern era (since 1971) to win at least three races per year in his first seven seasons of Cup racing, Johnson needs one victory to make it eight years in a row.

Already having notched 42 wins, the three-time defending Cup champion is two victories short of tying Bill Elliott for second place among active drivers. Johnson is 15th on the all-time win list.

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