Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Justin Allgaier

Leave a comment

Justin Allgaier couldn’t wait to tell his dad, Mike, something new he wanted to try.

Justin, who was 5, had just watched his 7-year-old friend, Joey Moughan, race a quarter midget. It was during a night out for Justin and his mother, Dorothy. As he watched other kids his age, including some who were friends, Justin recalls immediately thinking, “I’m in.”

Dorothy was non-committal, offering Justin a, we’ll see what we can do. But Moughan’s father offered Justin the chance to drive Joey’s car, just to see if he even liked it. Mike Allgaier was traveling that week but soon heard all about Justin wanting to get behind the wheel.

“I was going a million miles an hour about how I went to a quarter midget racetrack, and I fell in love with it and that I was going to race quarter midgets,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “My dad kept saying, no, no, no.”

But Justin had the trump card.

“I said, ‘But mom said,’ and he’s like, ‘Put your mom on the phone,’” Allgaier explained. “I put mom on the phone, and she said, ‘Well I told him that maybe we can get a cheap car and just go putz around, see if he likes it.’ He was like, no. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it (right). I don’t want to just go in there and just do it for fun just because it’s something that you think might be cool.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Allgaier went on to become a five-time quarter midget champion by age 12. In 2008, he won the ARCA Racing Series championship with the family team. A year later, Allgaier embarked on his full-time NASCAR career in the Xfinity Series earning three wins. After a stint in Sprint Cup in 2014 and ’15, Allgaier returned to the Xfinity Series and is competing for the championship with JR Motorsports.

“My dad was very big on never wanting it to be his decision that I went racing,” Allgaier said. “He would give me every opportunity to do it at a level of what was competitive, but he said if there was something else you want to do, if there’s another sport you want to play, we’re going to do it. So I played baseball and soccer, all kinds of other sports, but nothing ever was near racing.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: In what way did you grow up around racing?

Allgaier: My parents had both been involved in racing a number of years even before I came along. My dad sold tools for a long time and then got into the parts business, actually built and sold a brand of racecar. Then they got into the tire industry and started selling racing tires. So for as long as I can remember I was wanting to be at the track with my dad at some level and my mom ran the offices around home, and she traveled a lot with him too, but she was kind of the one who held the fort down; I spent most of my time with my mom. She’s the one that got me started in racing. She’s the one that took me to the racetrack for the first time.

NBC Sports: During your ARCA career you worked on your cars, did that give you a greater appreciation of what it takes to be a driver?

Allgaier: I think so. Not only does it help you with your own stuff, but it helps you with the other competitors, putting yourself or others in a position that damages racecars. I’ve watched guys work until four or five in the morning; I’ve watched guys not sleep at all; I’ve watched guys, and myself included, do things that make you go, ‘Oh man, there’s no reason or a way that you should be able to accomplish that,’ and you did. The other part of it is, when you have a job on the racecar, even when you’re not the one driving it, your mindset goes to, I want that racecar to be the best and the safest that it can be for whoever is driving it. I always looked at it as somebody might drive this car, so I have to put my thoughts and efforts into if somebody else is going to drive it, and I think that’s a great learning tool. When you understand how parts work and how they get bolted together and why things fail, I think it gives you a better understanding when you’re in the racecar of how to diagnose certain problems.

My job was always if it fell inside the windows. So mounting a seat or doing all the electrical work or running the fans or doing any of that kind of stuff. I maybe didn’t necessarily have the major suspensions pieces as a part of my job, but at the same time, I was always out there watching them do it, trying to understand how to make things work and how to help them make my racecar better. That’s something that not everyone in our younger generation has currently and I think that a lot of guys that came before me, their only option was to work on their racecars. By the time I came around, it was probably 50/50, and now I would say it’s probably 90/10, and I think that’s a great tool for some of these young kids that want to make it in this sport. I think it’s a great way to learn your racecar and to also learn some valuable lessons in life that you can’t learn in school.

NBC Sports: A few years ago during a prerace feature you gave a tour of your hometown, including your parent’s house where they have a room of racing memorabilia. Do your parents still collect a lot of memorabilia and have they added to it?

Allgaier: Oh yeah, every chance they get they add to it. My mom is constantly reorganizing the room because the amount of stuff that she collects grows, so she has to reorganize the room just to fit everything in. And it’s not uncommon either for my mom to go to a charity auction that I’ve donated stuff to and she’ll buy it. My parents are very sentimental when it comes to not only my racing but just racing in general. My parents have a lot of memorabilia that isn’t mine, has nothing to do with me but is stuff that has meant things to them in the past. We were at the (Motor Racing Outreach) dinner, and my dad bought some die-cast cars; it was Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison, and he’s like, even though I spent more on these cars than their actual retail value, the stories that I have knowing these cars and the era means more to me than the car itself does.

I have almost every helmet that I raced with; there’s only a few that have gotten away that were out of my control. I have a majority of firesuits. I at least have one or more from every year that I raced from the time I was five up until now. When my parents are no longer able to be around and be here with us, I’m very fortunate that they documented a lot of where I’ve come from, and it’s cool to be able to go home and see all that and relive those moments.

NBC Sports: How did the ‘Little Gator’ nickname come about?

Allgaier: When my dad was born they told my grandfather, ‘Mr. Alligator you can come in and see your son now’ because everybody always wants to add a T and drop some letters and add some letters. Our last name is hard enough as it is, but people always think it says alligator. So my dad became gator, and for as long as I can remember going to the racetrack everybody knew my dad as gator, and there were a lot of people that had no idea my dad’s name was Mike. Like no clue; known him for 30 years and didn’t know his name was Mike. We were at the racetrack one time in the ARCA Series, and I was probably eight or nine, and I was walking along with my dad and one of the crew members stopped him and said, ‘This must be the little gator you always talk about racing.’ It kind of stuck. I’m not sure that being called little anything is necessarily the nickname you’d like to have, but I have a more respect for my dad than probably anybody in this world and so if I’m ‘Little Gator’ to him being ‘Gator’ I’m OK with it.

NBC Sports: There’s an artistic side to you when it comes to design, and you’ve mentioned stashing away pens and notebooks in your motorhome, so what are some things you’ve created?

Allgaier: My grandfather and my dad are both closet artists. My grandfather was very, very good at it and he was more into building things, and you never knew what he was going to build out of stuff that you wouldn’t expect. He used to build these little owl sculptures out of tree bark, just random stuff that was really cool. And my dad is a great artist he just doesn’t do anything with it. He always swears he isn’t very good, so he doesn’t do anything with it. So from an early age, I always had a lot of artistic people around me and being into cars I was always a huge fan of the cars up in the Northeast, like the big block modifieds and the tour modifieds. I always thought those cars looked really cool, so I would always sit in class and draw cars and draw paint schemes and numbers and helmets and firesuits. You name it, and I was drawing it.

When I was 12, my dad got tired of paying people to do graphics on our racecars, so he bought a vinyl machine, and he told me that I had to read the entire manual, which was like 10,000 pages, and that I had to do all of these things before I could run it. But once I did that I was going to do all my own graphics. From then on, up until I was fortunate enough to come to Charlotte to drive NASCAR, I did every racecar that I drove; I designed, cut, put them on the racecars, that was my job. So, I love it even to this day. I still try to get as much input as I can, whatever they’ll give me. Most of our teams now have people that do that, so I don’t get as much say as I would like, but at the same time, I’ve been very lucky to have an ability to do it. I’m not as good as it as I would like, but I still enjoy doing it.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Follow @KellyCrandall

A long time coming: Kurt Busch earns best finish since Daytona 500 win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With a win in the Daytona 500, the 2017 Cup season couldn’t have started out better for Kurt Busch.

But since, it’s been a struggle much of the time for the 2004 Cup champion.

The Daytona win qualified him for the playoffs, but he exited after the first round.

Along the way, he managed just four other top-five finishes, had seven DNFs (six crashes, one engine issue) and has endured a mediocre 16.2 average finish per race.

But much of that was forgotten – at least for a little while – after Busch’s runner-up finish in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, his best showing since his Daytona 500 win.

“I really wanted that one bad,” Busch told NBCSN. “I don’t know what it is about this place. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Later, the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion praised Gibson further, although he didn’t exactly feel that way after Saturday’s qualifying.

“All in all, Tony Gibson deserves this second‑place finish,” Busch said. “He got on me pretty hard on Saturday morning after qualifying (15th). He said, You know, we got a brake problem. I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“He goes, ‘You didn’t use brake, that’s why we didn’t run good in run two and run three.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I never use brake in qualifying.’ So he actually really pissed me off. I spent the whole race pretty agitated. At the end, I made sure I used brake and brought it home in second.”

While his championship hopes were dashed at the end of the Round of 16, Busch hopes to build momentum for the remaining four races.

Yeah, it was nice to have things unfold in our favor today, even though I brushed the wall and got us a lap down early,” Busch said. “The mentality that I’ve been trying to accept right now is run for 10th, try not to push the car too hard. Anything above 10th is icing on the cake.”

One thing that helped Busch’s finish was using sticker tires instead of scuffs late in the race. That allowed him to close on race winner Martin Truex Jr., even though Busch still came up over two seconds short at the start-finish line.

“It’s a matter of just keeping track of the adjustments throughout the race, making sure that we use every set of sticker tires that we possibly can and get the most out of sticker tires,” he said. “When we have scuffs, we struggle. We’re a 15th place car on scuffs.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Among his final acts alive, James “Jim” Watson texted his wife Saturday night and told her what a great time he was having with his Furniture Row Racing teammates at a local go-kart track.

Soon after, the 55-year-old father suffered a fatal heart attack.

“I take a little bit of solace in that he was happy in his last moments,’’ said a misty-eyed Cole Pearn after Martin Truex Jr. rallied to win Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Pearn was on the way to the hospital Saturday night when he was told Watson died. The team later gathered at their hotel to grieve.

“We just all looked at each other and shed some tears and some hugs,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports.

No Cup team has faced so much personal adversity in such a public way this year as Furniture Row Racing. Its greatest season on the track has been offset by tragedy and tribulation.

Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, had surgery in July for a recurrence of cancer. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2014 and announced she was cancer-free in January 2016. Her ovarian cancer returned this summer. Truex won at Kentucky Speedway and brought her home from the hospital the next day. Her chemo treatments continue.

After the Kentucky race, Pearn’s closest childhood friend suddenly died after he caught a bacterial infection from a cut. Truex won that weekend at Watkins Glen to cap what Pearn called then “the hardest week of my life.’’

After Truex won at Charlotte two weeks ago, Pearn said “my wife and I put our dog down … that we’ve had for 13 years.

“It’s just like, man, I don’t know if regular life is supposed to be like this.’’

Then came Saturday night.

Watson had been with the team since February, joining as a fabricator, who worked on both the cars of Truex and Erik Jones. Watson was a longtime racer from Wisconsin.

“James was a friend to everybody,’’ said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “It’s hard to talk about.’’

Truex said both teams helped each other work through the pain while preparing for the race Sunday morning. Truex’s seventh victory of the season continued his dominance and is the most wins by a Cup driver in a season since Matt Kenseth won seven races in 2013.

Pearn called it “kind of overwhelming” to see Truex cross under the checkered flag ahead of the field less than 24 hours after Watson’s death. 

“I was doing OK and then I started seeing the faces on other guys,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports. “It just hits you like a ton of bricks.’’

When Truex won in the past, it had just been the No. 78 crew that gathered in Victory Lane. Sunday, the No. 77 crew also joined Truex’s team to celebrate a win and a life.

“Chris (Gayle) and I came to it … that if either one of us were fortunate enough to win, we’d both go to Victory Lane because Jim worked on both of our cars and was a part of both of our teams,’’ Pearn said of the crew chief for the No. 77 team.

It proved a fitting honor for Watson.

“He always wanted when we won to celebrate as a group,’’ Pearn said. “I just couldn’t think of any better way to pay tribute to him and know that he would have been happy with that call.’’

Tough night but the result was some solace we all needed. So proud of the team. For you Wildman RIP

A post shared by Cole Pearn (@colepearn) on

What Drivers Said after Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

Leave a comment

Martin Truex Jr. continues to be the most dominant – and winning – driver of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season and playoffs.

Truex’s win in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway was his third in the first six playoff races and his series-leading seventh win of 2017 – six which have come on 1.5-mile racetracks.

Now the playoffs advance to the Round of 8 semifinal round. Kyle Busch is second in the points, 27 points behind Truex, and Brad Keselowski is third, 43 points back.

Four drivers were eliminated from advancing to the next round: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

All of them, as well as many other drivers, had a lot to say about Sunday’s race:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (team member Jim Watson, who passed away Saturday night from a heart attack) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here. Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 2nd: “I really wanted that one bad. I don’t know what it is about this place. Kyle (Busch) struggles here too. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 3rd: “It was a good race. We did a nice job coming from the back and I thought we got our car pretty decent there in the second stage. Then there was a mixup with some strategy stuff and pit calls and it felt like we were kind of at the back part of that but we were able to recover and miss that wreck which was big for us. We ran strong enough all day that we should have been in with where we ran. I am really proud of my team for the effort and we will move on to the next round and Martinsville.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 4th: “It was a wild day for sure. We fought our balance all weekend. I know the result wasn’t terrible, but definitely feel like we could have been a lot better this weekend and just the way things worked out for us. But, our car got better as the day went along, we just didn’t have the balance on a very long run to go up and pass guys like you need to have. So, we will go to work and get this side of things ready for Texas.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 5th: We definitely got our car better from where it was yesterday, but still a little bit off today. Just fought a terminal condition that we just couldn’t fix on pit road, but proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team for giving me something I could battle up front there with a little bit. Just got to get a little faster on the short run and we’ll be fine. The biggest thing we need to work on is short run speed. If we can do that, then we could contend, but we’re heading to a mighty good race track for us next week (Martinsville) that hopefully we’re able to capitalize.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 6th: “Yeah, absolutely that was an awesome day for our Scott brands Chevrolet. But, just proud of everybody back at JTG Daugherty Racing. We have been working really hard the last several months to try and get it turned around. We have hit the summer months and we haven’t had the speed we wanted. So, this weekend was a big step in the right direction for us. It’s excited. It’s fun to come back and run well.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 7th: “We ended up having a decent run. I am just glad that we brought another good finish home. I think that is about where the car should have finished this weekend. … (On missing the big wreck) It’s all luck.  A lot of times if you just run the back of somebody and push them through it that kind of works for you too. I did a little bit of that too. Just real lucky. That helped us on our finish today. I don’t know if we could get the track position and get a top 10. The car was fast enough at times to run up there and finish up there, but we will take it.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 8th: “As you look at the result of the day you want to have a chance to win. We had a car capable of winning. Just got stuck in a box and the box kept on getting smaller and smaller. The caution came out with the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger spin) and that put us and the 18 in a bad spot. That was it. Our focus was one stage at a time and we accomplished that. After that it was about trying to win the race.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 10th: “I thought we had a good shot to go for the win today and got off on tire strategy a little today. (Martin) Truex got by us and he was checking out, but was just going to play it out when we pitted and the rest of those guys pitted, where it would all shake out. But obviously that caution came out and it bit us and got us behind. Fortunately, our situation today was that we had to race guys that ended up crashing out, hate it for them. I would have liked to race it heads up and that might have been a different situation, but all in all we’ll take what was given to us today and we’ll live to see another day and fight again next week going to Martinsville.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 11th: “(On Martinsville, where he has nine wins) It’s not a bad track for us. So, hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it. It’s not back to zero with all those stage points. For us to advance moving forward we’ve got to win. We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up. It’s really simple from our stand point. We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 13th: “We were good enough and better than our finish. The pit road speeding penalty was ridiculous because I was way under pit road speed and running right with everyone else both times and they didn’t get a penalty. I will have to see that one for my own eyes. All in all, my guys put a good effort in it and I think we were better than we finished.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a definitely a crazy day at Kansas Speedway. With the changing track conditions as the sun set and shaded parts of the track, we had to be on top of the adjustments to our GEICO Chevrolet for the entire race. My team did a great job making calls, and I didn’t struggle with balance much at all. Track position was just key, and it was hard to make passes out there. Overall, I think this was a good weekend and shows the improvements to our intermediate-track package. There’s still work to be done, but we are definitely getting closer.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 19th: “We just couldn’t get on the right side of anything, strategy-wise, nothing. We got caught up in the wreck. Certainly not the way you want to finish at home. I had a top-five car all weekend long, just wasn’t meant to be.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 20th: “We really didn’t have anywhere to go during that deal on the backstretch. … It’s really unfortunate we didn’t get the result we deserve but we will keep fighting and get after it next weekend at Martinsville.”

Joey Logano — Finished 21st: “We had a tough day with our Shell-Pennzoil Ford. We struggled on short run speed and once the field got spread out it was tough to make up spots. Then we got caught up in the wreck later in the race and that damage certainly didn’t help us. We’ll regroup and head to Martinsville next week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 29th: “We really struggled today with the handling of our Fastenal Ford. It’s a bummer we couldn’t advance but no one really gave us a chance to make the Round of 12. Overall, we have had a great season so we can’t hang our heads. We have four more races to gain as many points as we can and finish off the season strong.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 34th: “I had a really fast car. I thought we had one of the best cars, and I felt like if we could have gotten to the lead, I could have led the race for a while. It was a good Cessna Chevy. But we’ve had two bad races in a row and there’s nothing you can do about it. We had a car that could have won. I think if we could have gotten to the front, but just didn’t make it to the end.”

Erik Jones — Finished 35th: “(On his wreck) I just lost it. It’s unfortunate and I feel bad for my guys and my team and I also feel bad for the cars that we took out of the race. It’s just a shame, I made the same mistakes here in the spring and this place has just been tough to me. Fortunately we had a fast 5-hour ENERGY Camry and it was up front, we had worked our way back up to that point after having mishaps at the start of the day. Nonetheless, not the ending that we wanted, but hopefully we can come back a little stronger for Martinsville.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 36th: “You have to thank NASCAR very much for all the work that they do on these race cars to make them very safe because I got hit from everywhere and I hit the 77 (Erik Jones) very, very hard. I’m perfect – the car’s not, but I’m good. Honestly, I don’t really know what happened. I just know that the 77 got very loose somehow and the next thing I saw was his door and my nose. I really couldn’t do anything at that point, but I haven’t seen a replay yet.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 37th: “I don’t know what any of the rules are. Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it, to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed. We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win. … Honestly, I’ve never heard of disqualifying somebody from a race if you got one too many guys over the wall or whatever happened there. Couldn’t be any more disappointed.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 38th: “I came out and said, ‘I got a turkey,’ three in a row. That is some bad luck. The Code 3 car had just started to get better, just starting to get hooked up, actually. I actually felt like I was catching the right lanes and right movements on the track and having good restarts. Would have been nice to finish one off. We haven’t done that in awhile.

Kyle Larson — Finished 39th: “I guess, I’m not stunned because freak things happen in every sport.  I mean you look at every year in the past and a lot of times – most every time at least in the new playoff format era – not always does the best team win. Not saying we are the best team, but we have been one of the contenders all season long. So, I’m not stunned, because it is a long 10 race playoff season, so anything can happen, but we have had a solid playoffs.  We have been consistent and just now got bit. … (On winning 4 races and gets eliminated) It’s painful. A part of me, I guess, will maybe be thankful that it wasn’t on my doing. I keep saying everything sucks. I don’t really know how to answer these because it’s the same answer for every question.”

Jimmie Johnson survives multiple accidents to advance in playoffs

Leave a comment

Jimmie Johnson‘s championship hopes were in peril on Lap 197 of Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

They were saved on Lap 198 by a 14-car crash that Johnson narrowly made it through.

Johnson, who finished 11th in the playoff elimination race, had come off consecutive spins on Laps 189 and 194 and trips to pit road for repairs when the wreck broke out on restart following his second spin. The first spin had sent his No. 48 Chevrolet sliding through the rain-soaked grass in the infield.

“The car was extremely loose,” Johnson told NBCSN. “We fought the balance throughout the day and the car would swing so hard. We were trying for short run speed to free the car up and we just got too far with it and I spun out twice. Thankfully I didn’t hit anything too hard.

“And when things really changed was down the back straightaway in that wreck. Somehow, I went through there at a high rate of speed and missed everybody. I don’t know how, but I made it. And then the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) car was sitting there and I thought I had him lined-up for a square impact, but fortunately he slid out of the way. … It wasn’t a pretty day, but we got it done.”

Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, had less kind words for his team’s day.

“We ran like (expletive),” Knaus told NBC Sports. “It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good racetracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We’ve obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Johnson is the active wins leader at Martinsville with nine. He is the defending winner of the fall race. It is his only top five in the last six races at the short track.

“It’s not a bad track for us,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it.”

Johnson is also the defending winner at Texas Motor Speedway, where he earned one of his three wins this year in April.

At Phoenix, Johnson has four wins, but the last one came in 2009. He also only has one top five there in his last six starts.

Johnson heads into the Round of 8 seeded fifth in the standings with 4,017 points.

“It’s not back to zero with all those stage points,” Johnson said. “For us to advance moving forward, we’ve got to win.  We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up.  It’s really simple from our standpoint.  We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

In his quest to win a record eighth Cup championship, Johnson has earned just four top fives this season. His third-place finish at Dover in the final race of the first playoff round is the only one since his June win also at Dover.

Johnson is the only driver who has won a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. He has four races left to continue the streak.