/ NASCAR / JIMMIE JOHNSON
Kyle Busch has to be considered a real threat to Johnson in 2011, as does Harvick (INSET) who ran him so close last year. (BELOW LEFT) JJ with wife Chandra nd daughter Genevieve. (BELOW RIGHT) Emulating the figure on top of his trophy at Talladega, scene of his only win in the first 21 races of the 2011 season.
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“We’ve changed the mentality of our pit
crew. We don’t have so many mechanics training to be athletes.
We’ve got a lot of athletes who we’re training to be mechanics.”
performed like the well-oiled machine it’s
been in the past. When crew chief Chad
Knaus came up with the brilliant and
Machiavellian decision to swap Johnson’s
pit crew with Je; Gordon’s midway
through last year’s second Texas race, it
foretold a bigger plan: create a rotating
team of crewmen who essentially would
audition for jobs on a weekly basis, with
some going over the wall and others
remaining on the bench for weeks ahead.
Knaus, too, has to shoulder some of the blame for some of
the disappointing results of 2011. This year, more than any in
recent memory, the tactics and strategy of NASCAR Sprint Cup
racing have changed. Goodyear’s new, more durable tires have
forced crew chiefs to make daring gambles and di;cult
decisions. Taking four fresh tires every pit stop is no longer a
given and, at times, that has bitten Johnson. At Dover, he led
207 laps – more than half the race – but he and Knaus elected to
take four tires instead of two on the final pit stop, burying him
deep in the field. He ended the race ninth.
A good idea in theory, but execution
has been spotty. In fact, pit road has been
a bad place for the No. 48 team all year,
with slow stop after slow stop thwarting
good finishes. At least six times this
season, crew chief Knaus has switched
the over-the-wall lineup – and it’s still
been far from e;ective. After the New
A big part of the reason that there have been 15 di;erent
winners in the first 22 Sprint Cup races this season is due to
those new tires – track position now matters a whole lot more
than raw speed. The proof is in the results. In those 22 races,
Hampshire race in July, Johnson lambasted
the crew to reporters on pit road.
“When it’s key times for stops, we
have mistakes,” Johnson told the media.
“I’ve been real patient all year, but I’m
running out of patience. I care for these
guys deeply for going over the wall and I
know they’re very talented guys, but
we’re getting way too close to the Chase
“We have a lot of new guys,” says Knaus.
the short side of winning this year, in 2010 he proved that he can never, ever be counted out. When it comes to the Chase, Johnson has more lives than Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street. Last year Kevin Harvick and especially Denny Hamlin had clearly faster cars than Johnson in the Chase, but couldn’t put Johnson away. No one shines brighter under pressure than the No. 48 team. They perform best when the stakes are highest. And after five consecutive championships, only a fool would count hem out at this point in the season. Besides, no one else truly has risen
only six times has the driver who led the
most laps won the race. Conversely, six
races have been won by drivers who led
10 or fewer laps in the race. Winning is
no longer about having the best car; it’s
about leading the field o; pit road at the
final stop. Johnson and Knaus were
blindsided with that new reality and it’s
totally changed the game.
“We have a lot of
new guys. We’ve
changed the mentality
of our pit crew”