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Motivated Jimmie Johnson seeks better results after Kansas

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Jimmie Johnson’s night didn’t start well and got worse from there Saturday at Kansas Speedway, resulting in a 19th-place finish that extended his winless streak to a career-high 34 races.

Starting 23rd, Johnson struggled early with his car’s handling. More trouble arose on a pit stop after the competition caution on Lap 30.

The result was a loose wheel. He had to pit under green on Lap 62 because of that and fell a lap down. He lost a second lap coming to the end of Stage 2 at Lap 160 when Kyle Larson lapped him. Crew chief Chad Knaus was not pleased with the move by the fellow Chevy driver even though Larson was being chased by Kevin Harvick for the stage victory.

“We should have done a … better job there Earl blocking (Larson),” Knaus said on the radio to spotter Earl Barban after the stage ended.

Johnson responded: “It’s not Earl’s fault. I was trying to pass the 24 (teammate William Byron). He was in my … way.”

Two laps down before the final stage began, Knaus radioed Johnson: “Let’s just be smart here, we’re not really racing for anything. We’ve got to have something go our way. We’re going to have to go like 10 laps and get a caution in order to get a wave around.”

They never got the caution.

Later during the final stage, Knaus radioed Johnson: “Use your tools, bud. You alright?”

Johnson responded: “Do you want me to ride or go? What do you want me to do?”

Knaus said: “We need to try to keep our pace. Doing a good job … Try to keep our pace up so we’re not another lap down.”

When the race ended, Knaus radioed the team: “Not a good day guys, I know. We just got to clean it up.”

It wasn’t a good night for all of Hendrick Motorsports, which remains one victory away from 250 career Cup wins. Chase Elliott led the way by placing 12th but said afterward: “Just scratching and clawing to run mediocre. We have a lot of work to do.” Alex Bowman was 18th, Johnson 19th and Byron finished 33rd after crashing late.

This season, Johnson has tweeted inspirational quotes, focusing mainly on quotes from Babe Ruth.

Sunday, Johnson tweeted a quote attributed to Mookie Wilson, a member of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets:

Cut4, a site affiliated with Major League Baseball, had a story in May 2017 about the Mookie Wilson quote and notes that the quote is fake.

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Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson doing more with less in last two races

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For the last two Cup races, Jimmie Johnson looked more like his old self.

At Bristol, Johnson scored his first top five since October. On Saturday at Richmond, after running off the lead lap for 267 of 400 laps, the seven-time champion used a series of late-race cautions to finish sixth.

It marked Johnson’s first consecutive top 10s since October at Dover and Charlotte.

On NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed the No. 48 team’s improvement.

“I think very clearly Jimmie Johnson and (crew chief) Chad Knaus have figured out a way to do more with less,” Letarte said. “The secret of Jimmie Johnson the last 10 years — the fastest race car with the best driver. … That’s how they won at least six of their seven championships, was the best race car. I think when you’re that good for so long … you perhaps don’t build the skill set of running a lap down, you don’t build the skill set of racing a lap down. That’s different than running on the lead lap or pit strategy to win the race.”

Johnson is mired in the longest winless streak of his career at 32 races.

“It’s hard to believe that someone like Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus can learn a new trick, but they’ve learned one,” Letarte said. “Through the summer, as the cars get better, look out. Because if they keep this sort of patience with good cars, I expect Jimmie to win races again and win multiple times in 2018.”

Watch the above video for more on Johnson and his teammate William Byron.

Chad Knaus to be a father in August

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Chad Knaus’ wife, Brooke, announced Monday night that the couple is expecting its first child this year.

Brooke tweeted that she is due in August.

Chad Knaus is in his 17th season as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief. They’ve won seven championships together, leaving Knaus one behind the all-time record for a crew chief. Dale Inman won eight championships — seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte.

 

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Friday 5: NASCAR ends practice of drivers sitting in cars to serve penalties

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The public shaming drivers, most notably Joey Logano, suffered last year because their cars did not pass inspection will not be repeated this season, NASCAR confirmed.

Logano was forced to sit in his car at the end of pit road for an entire 50-minute practice session in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because his car failed to clear qualifying inspection.

At one point, Logano’s wife delivered water as he sat strapped in the car in full uniform. The intent for such penalties was that since drivers are part of a team they should also suffer consequences when their cars failed to pass inspection in a timely fashion.

But the Logano spectacle turned the penalty into “a joke” as Logano called it that day after exiting his car in the garage.

NASCAR will change how it will enforce such penalties this year.

Teams still will be docked practice time but they will serve it in the garage instead of on pit road. Also, the driver no longer has to be in the car. Teams cannot work on the car while it is serving a timed penalty.

Also, teams will serve their penalties at the end of a practice session instead of the beginning. So, if a team has a 15-minute penalty, the driver must take the car back to the garage at that point, exit the car and the team is done for the session.

The move keeps cars from being parked on pit road, drivers sitting in them for 15, 30 minutes or more and people talking more about a car not on track instead of those that are practicing.

2. More details revealed on NASCAR’s new pit crew rules

When NASCAR announced in November that it was eliminating one person from going over the wall to pit the car, it led to many questions. At the time, NASCAR couldn’t answer all those questions as they were sorting through the details of allowing only five people to service the car.

NASCAR provided a few more answers this week.

What happens if a pit crew member is injured during an event?

That person can be replaced by a backup — even if they are assigned to another team. Say, a member of Stewart-Haas Racing’s pit crew is injured and cannot continue. SHR, which has provided pit crews to Front Row Motorsports, could take one member from that pit crew to replace the injured person. Front Row then would have to fill the open spot with someone who is listed as a pit crew member on a team roster.

OK, what about a situation like what happened at Texas in 2010 when Chad Knaus replaced all of his pit crew with teammate Jeff Gordon’s pit crew during a race?

Teams can make changes based on performance within their organization as long as they are on a roster. Recall, teams must submit a roster listing their pit crew, road crew and organizational members each weekend.

Previously it was stated that the fuel man can only fuel the car during a stop. Has that changed?

NASCAR remains steadfast in that the fuel man can only fuel the car — he is not allowed to make adjustments on the car or help with tires. The exception that NASCAR will allow is that the fuel man can kick a tire down in the name of safety — to avoid being hit by a tire.

Wait, there is a time when a fuel man can work on the car?

Yes. Say a team has damage and comes to pit road for repairs. A fuel man can go over the wall to help repair damage but cannot fuel the car during that stop. If a team changes only tires and doesn’t add fuel during a routine stop, the fuel man cannot go over the wall. No fuel, no fuel man over the wall — unless it is related to repairing damage.

3. “Jimmie Johnson rule” goes away

A controversial call NASCAR made last year in the playoff race at Charlotte won’t be repeated this season.

Jimmie Johnson started to pull out of his pit box before his team stopped him because of an unsecured lug nut. Johnson backed his car but it was not entirely in his pit stall when a crew member secured a lug nut on the left front wheel.

As it happened, many figured Johnson would be penalized for having work done on the car outside the pit box.

NASCAR did not penalize, stating that it had routinely allowed teams to secure a lug nut outside the pit box, calling it a safety issue.

All such work this season must be done in the pit box, NASCAR confirmed. If not, it’s a penalty.

Another change involves the fuel man. Previously, NASCAR allowed the fuel man to have the fuel can connected to the car and follow the car as it exited its pit stall. That no longer will be allowed. The fuel man must unplug the fuel can before the front of the car crosses over the edge of its pit stall or the team will be penalized for servicing the car outside the stall.

4. Maybe next year

One of the changes Denny Hamlin said the Drivers Council discussed last year was the choose rule. That’s what is used at short tracks.

The premise is that as drivers cross the start/finish line a lap before a restart, drivers have the option to choose if they want to start on the inside or outside lane. On a track where one groove is significantly better .

I know we talked a little bit about cone choose rule on restarts for some tracks,’’ Hamlin said of the Drivers Council. “That didn’t come forth this year. I know several of us were hoping so, being that there was such a disadvantage at some racetracks such as (you) happen to come off pit lane in the wrong lane, you’re not going to win the race, and that’s not necessarily fair.

“I think giving the drivers a choose rule would be something good to look forward in the future, but overall it’s status quo on the way the stages went. The cars are relatively the same, so there’s good momentum that we need to build on from last year.”

5. One last weekend …

This is the final weekend before NASCAR resumes at Daytona International Speedway. This also marks one of only two weekends without any of NASCAR’s three national series racing between now and the end of the season on Nov. 18.

The other weekend? March 31-April 1 because April 1 is Easter.

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