AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jimmie Johnson’s team has enjoyed unprecedented success in NASCAR with a meticulous and methodical approach personified by workaholic crew chief Chad Knaus’ fastidious style.
The only team in NASCAR history to win five consecutive championships is the antithesis of embodying a circus atmosphere, but Johnson said it’s taken a certain looseness to tighten the winning ways that have returned the past two weeks.
Witness the Friday night field trip to nearby Glendale organized by Johnson after he won the pole position at Phoenix International Raceway
“I’ve got my guys set to go to Nitro Circus and watch Travis Pastrana do backflips,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a suite over there full of beer and food, and we are going to go hang out and watch Nitro Circus.
“Things like that just bonding and hanging out and being friends. Because when the pressure, I go to my motorhome, Chad goes to his, the guys grab some pizza on the way back to the hotel and just spend all night looking at the computer. After weeks and weeks of that it’s just hard on you. We are trying to lighten the environment, have some fun, make better gut reactions. Get to the track and just kind of shoot from the hip.”
After a summer slump in which Knaus said the team was “horrible, pathetic,” Johnson seems to be finding his stride since being eliminated from the playoffs after the first round. Last Sunday’s victory at Texas Motor Speedway was his second top five in four races, and he will start first in a Cup race for the first time since the 2014 Coca-Cola 600.
“Yeah, it’s a good roll, for sure,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to see all the hard work come together and us having the speed in the car and really have kind of a swagger back that we’re accustomed to having. So it’s been a little in a lot of areas that’s led to this, from the engine department and chassis and aero and engineering and camaraderie amongst the team; all those things.
“We’ve been kind of stacking pennies for a while, and it’s nice to have the reward.”