chad knaus

NASCAR America: Dale Jarrett on what happened to Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett analyzed what happened to Jimmie Johnson and his failure to make the championship round on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America,

“I think the big thing was that they continued to battle,” Jarrett said. “We didn’t hear them throwing things at each other – Jimmie blaming Chad or Chad blaming Jimmie, anything like that. They’re still a tight-knit organization and group. And I think that’s the biggest thing.

“I’m sure people are going to say now, I’m sure it’s out there, that it’s time for Chad to go, they need to split this up and do something different. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“They just have always been able to fix things. I had this conversation on Friday, that they’ve always shown us you can fix it. They said, well, this time, they haven’t been able to, but were hoping to and thought they could at Phoenix.

“This was Mt. Everest they were trying to climb. They just couldn’t make it.”

Check out the full segment in the video above.

Jimmie Johnson faces last chance to make title round

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AVONDALE, Arizona — Jimmie Johnson says that even with the struggles this season he wants to finish his career with Chad Knaus as his crew chief.

The duo has worked together since Johnson’s rookie season in 2002 and won seven Cup titles together, including last year’s crown.

To have a chance at a record eighth title next week in Miami, Johnson needs to wins Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. He enters last among the eight title contenders, 51 points out of the final transfer spot.

Johnson said Friday that this season has been as challenging to him as 2015, a year he won five races but finished 10th in the points. Johnson was eliminated from title contention in the opening round of the playoffs that season.

“That was a tough one on us as well with that rules package and trying to get speed out of our cars,’’ Johnson said of the 2015 season. “So, I’d say between ’15 and ’17, those have probably been the two most challenging years in my career at the Cup level.”

Johnson has three victories this season but all came in the first 13 races. Since his win at Dover in June, Johnson has one top-five finish and six top-10 results in 21 races.

At the end of the day chasing speed is really the culprit,’’ said Johnson, who ranks 12th in laps led this year and has led in only two of the last 17 races. “And I feel that next year we’ll be in a much better position with the Camaro body on the race car. So, you start making decisions late spring and early summer, trying to extract speed out of the cars. And that doesn’t always make them comfortable to drive. So, it’s hard to say it’s just one thing, but the start of the process is just trying to make our cars faster. And, at times we’ve not made the best decisions and have made them very hard to drive. I think Texas was an example of that and also Kansas. We spun twice there. So, it’s just trying to make the cars faster.”

Friday, Johnson reaffirmed his support of Knaus.

“I started this with Chad and I want to finish it with him,” Johnson said.  “Outside of something crazy happening. Crew chiefs live in dog years versus drivers. I think he’s made that known that his time might expire before mine does, just because of the wear and tear of being a crew chief.’’

Johnson signed a three-year contract extension in June that will take him through 2020. Knaus’ contract goes through the 2018 season.

Although Johnson is in a must-win situation, it’s how he has felt this entire round, which included races at Martinsville and Texas.

“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to step-up and win at Martinsville or at Texas, so now it continues,’’ he said. “We’re here and we must win.”

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NASCAR America: It’s Scan All Texas, pardner

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They always seem to do things bigger in Texas, and this week’s edition of Scan All is no exception, with bigger action on the radio and TV.

Here’s some of the highlights:

  • “We have a different race track from last week, but the theme is the same: move it forward all day and put it where we need to be.” — Crew chief Jeremy Bullins to driver Ryan Blaney.
  • “I’ll see you down there in about 3 1/2 hours and get us a cowboy hat.” — Clayton Hughes, spotter for Martin Truex Jr.
  • “It’s not exactly what we wanted, but we’ll gather it up here.” Joey Meier, spotter for Brad Keselowski, after the first-lap contact between Keselowski and Kyle Busch.
  • “The goal is to not get crashed and not get lapped again.” — Crew chief Chad Knaus to Jimmie Johnson after the No. 48 went two laps down in the race.
  • Danica Patrick asked crew chief Billy Scott “How many laps is this race?” To which Scott replied, “334, so we’re about five laps past halfway.” Patrick responded, “Oh, geez.”
  • “Sorry I’m being all a negative Nancy out here, but it’s hot as (expletive).” — Danica Patrick on the high temperature in her car.
  • “We’re going to Miami, though. We’ll get ’em in two weeks.” — After Martin Truex Jr. finished second, crew chief Cole Pearn gave him the good news that he had qualified for the Championship 4 on points. “
  • “Damn, it’s good to be here in victory lane here in Texas.” — Race winner Kevin Harvick.

Check out Sunday’s best in the video above.

Long: Kyle Larson’s playoff exit significant to title contenders

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Lost among questions about rules, confusion on pit road and chaos on the track Sunday was just how significant Kyle Larson’s departure from the playoff is.

The owner of four wins this season, Larson was one of the few drivers who typically could race with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on the 1.5-mile tracks and some even considered Larson the championship favorite if he made it to Miami.

“I think Kyle Larson was going to be the car to beat, and still will be the car to beat at Homestead,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch. “Now that he’s not in the (playoff) mix anymore, it probably opens it up for the rest of us.’’

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think you eliminated the best car at Homestead. That’s a big deal. For everybody.’’

Larson entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway with a 29-point cushion before his title hopes ended when his engine blew with nearly 200 laps left. He finished 39th.

“It’s crazy,’’ Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., said of Larson’s playoff exit. “You can’t ever be safe, for sure.’’

Sunday marked the first time since 2013 that Larson failed to finish a race because of an engine failure. His first two career Cup races ended early because of engine issues that season.

Larson’s departure was as shocking as Busch’s exit in 2014 when he entered the elimination race at Talladega second in the standings with a 25-point cushion to advance to the next round.

Now a spot many presumed would be taken by Larson is open for someone else.

WORK REMAINS

Jimmie Johnson overcame two spins to finish 11th and advance to the Round of 8, moving a step closer to an eighth championship.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, though, wasn’t pleased after Sunday’s race.

On the radio afterward, Knaus said: “That was a pitiful performance.’’

Knaus had more to say after the race, telling NBC Sports:

“We ran like (expletive deleted). 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 race tracks 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 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.’’

Knaus is right to be concerned. The second round was mistake-riddled for the team.

The pit crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts late in the race at Charlotte, forcing Johnson to back up partially into his stall to remedy the issue, costing him time and positions.

An error by the team’s spotter led to the crew working on Johnson’s damaged car before the red flag period had ended, leading to the team being parked. The team had hoped to run one more lap after being collected in a crash to gain at least one more point.

Then came Kansas’ woes with the lack of speed, an ill-handling car and a seven-time champion causing back-to-back cautions.

“It’s no real surprise that mile-and-a-halves have been a little bit of a struggle for us this year,’’ Johnson said. “We’re putting in the effort. These guys are working around the clock. I’m looking under every stone I can to try to find something as well. We just don’t have the speed yet.

“We’ve got a real opportunity at Martinsville. If we’re able to win there … it sets us up for Homestead.’’

COMMUNICATION WOES

The communication issues Matt Kenseth’s team had Sunday wasn’t the first time for that team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the playoffs.

In the penultimate race of the 2013 season, Kenseth struggled all weekend and then had a disastrous pit stop when there was confusion on if the team would change two or four tires. After the call was made for four tires, Kenseth had to back up because the car was on the air hose.

The result was a 23rd-place finish that left Kenseth so far behind Johnson needed only to finish 23rd or better in Miami to win the title. Ratcliff apologized to his crew on the radio after the race for the effort.

Sunday’s scenario was different but communication again proved key and a miscue will keep the team from having a chance to race for a title.

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ Ratcliff said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully, we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.’’

So what happened?

“Two of them were holding tires (over the wall),’’ Ratcliff said of crew members. “We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically, it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

When Kenseth was told on the radio that he was being parked for having too many crew members work on his car while under the five-minute clock for crash damage, the former champion sounded incredulous that his — last? — chance to win a title ended in such a way.

With no plans announced for next year, there’s no guarantee Kenseth will be racing for a championship again. Now the goal becomes a win.

“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt,’’ Ratcliff said. “That would be special. Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.’’

PIT STOPS

The final eight Cup playoff contenders include four former champions — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. There has been a first-time champion in three of the last five years, which could be a good sign for playoff drivers Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. … With winning the pole at Kansas, Truex Jr.’s team earned the first pick of pit stalls also at Martinsville this weekend because qualifying is on the same day as the race there.

Jimmie Johnson survives multiple accidents to advance in playoffs

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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.