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Chad Knaus signs extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020 season

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SPARTA, Kentucky – Champion crew chief Chad Knaus has signed a contract extension to remain at Hendrick Motorsports through the 2020 season, the team announced Saturday afternoon.

Knaus’ contract was to have expired after this season. Knaus said he signed the contract extension in the last couple of weeks. JImmie Johnson is signed through the 2020 season.

Johnson and Knaus have been together since Johnson’s rookie year in 2002, the longest current tenure in the sport. They’ve combined to win seven championships.

“I think I’ve got a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things in the future, but right now we are focused on trying to get the ship righted at Hendrick Motorsports and get our cars qualifying and racing a little bit better,” Knaus said in comments distributed by Hendrick Motorsports. “And that is my primary goal.”

Johnson enters Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) on a 41-race winless streak, the longest drought of his career.

“Obviously, I’m a very competitive person and if we go three weeks without winning I’m frustrated,” Knaus said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and competing. I love to compete. The winless streak right now, yeah although it’s not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination it is where we are. It’s our reality right now and we’ve got to fight through it.”

Johnson starts 27th tonight.

Even with the struggles this season, the carrot of a record eighth championship remains.

“I would say that in years past it was maybe more just focusing on the next week,” Knaus said. “But I think I would be foolish and lying to not admit the fact that to get eight championships and to put Jimmie on a pedestal by himself at the top of the standings with championships is not a huge desire of mine and something I definitely want to try to achieve.”

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Comparing Cole Pearn, Martin Truex Jr.’s record together to NASCAR greats

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Martin Truex Jr and Cole Pearn have a good thing going.

Truex’s win Sunday at Sonoma Raceway came in his 123rd start with Pearn serving as his crew chief.

The two have had an eventful tenure in their four years together at Furniture Row Racing.

Since teaming up in the No. 78 Toyota in 2015, Truex’s second year with the team, the duo has scored 16 wins, 45 top fives, 75 top 10s and an all important championship last season.

How does their record so far compare to the first 123 races of other notable driver-crew chief pairings in NASCAR history?

Racing Insights compiled the info of nine pairings, including Truex/Pearn and Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens, who have 119 starts together. They would have 130 starts together if not for Busch missing 11 races in 2015 due to injury.

Truex and Pearn would have 124 starts together if not for a one-race suspension for Pearn in 2015.

The data includes five active pairings: Pearn/Truex, Stevens/Busch, Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson, Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick and Paul Wolfe/Brad Keselowski.

Among the nine pairings, the best is Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond, who had two championships, 28 wins, 75 top fives and 91 top 10s in their first 123 races together.

The most comparable pairing to Truex/Pearn is Knaus/Johnson.

After 123 starts, they’re tied for 16 wins and 75 top 10s. While the Hendrick Motorsports pairing had two more top fives, Truex and Pearn earned their first championship faster.

Johnson and Knaus earned their first title in their fifth year together when they reached 176 starts together.

Check out the info below.

Pairing       Starts     Wins Top 5s   Top 10s Titles
Jeff Hammond/Darrell Waltrip 123 28 75 91 2
Cole Pearn/Martin Truex Jr. 123 16 45 75 1
*Adam Stevens/Kyle Busch 119 18 54 74 1
Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick 123 13 59 84 1
Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson 123 16 47 75 0
Ray Evernham/Jeff Gordon 123 19 51 71 1
Kirk Shelmerdine/Dale Earnhardt 123 22 59 89 1 – Secured 2nd title in 125th start
Greg Zipadelli/Tony Stewart 123 14 47 76 0
Paul Wolfe/Brad Keselowski 123 11 39 61 1
 

*Only 119 starts together

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.