NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson Takes the Checkered Flag and Proves He Is Always Relevant in the Chase

Jimmie Johnson - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Listening to the media talk about Jimmie Johnson for the past few weeks has been entertaining to say the least.  Most of them seemed to have had him counted out of the 2011 Chase since Tony Stewart won the first race in Chicago.  Then along came Dover where he ran second and some of the nay sayers were still saying that he had a whole lot of work to do to catch back up in the points.  Well we have seen Jimmie’s work ethic for the past 5 years when it comes down to the Chase races.  No one understands the pressure better than the man that everyone is trying to beat.  After all to “Be then Man, you have to beat The Man” right?

 

In a race where he dominated from beginning to end, there was no doubt that his was the car to beat.  While the majority of the race had been long green flag runs, as the final laps wore down, so did the patience of all the drivers on the track.  Yellow flags began to fly, and every time they did Chad Knaus cringed over the fact that the field was going to tighten back up and give everyone on the track at Jimmie again.  Kasey Kahne had a push from Brad Kesolowski on the final restart and did his best to run him down, but Johnson and his 48 car just drove away like he had done all day long.

“We’ve been knocking on the door all year long,” said Johnson, after leading 197 laps. “We’ve got beat in some cases, and we’ve beat ourselves in others. … We did our part, and we’ll just see if we can do it six more times.”

Asked if he feels that a sixth consecutive Championship is in his reach he had this to say.

“We’re doing the right things,” Johnson said. “You just don’t know. Sure, this is a huge, huge step in the right direction, but in six races a lot can happen. So I don’t want to get overly excited. We’ve got to go out there and race for this thing.”

While Kasey Kahne tried to bring Red Bull at least one win in their final season in NASCAR, it was simply not in the cards at the Hollywood Casino 400.

Brad kesolowski - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Brad Kesolowski, who finished third, summed up the 48 car and his feeling about the race, and while happy that he managed a 3rd and a gain in the points he is still not satisfied.

“Another solid day for us thus far,” Keselowski said after the race. “Makes you kick yourself that last week at Dover we had troubles we did, because we’ve had top-five cars each and every week, [and] we’re executing very well as a group and as a team.”

“Just the things that we can control we’re doing very well. So I’m proud of everything and proud of our efforts.”

“Paul Wolfe my crew chief, used great strategy,” Keselowski said. “We did the best we could. I think Jimmie went in the garage and stole my No. 22 Nationwide car, because there was nobody going to run with him all day.

“His car was just way better. … To get a third-place out of this, if it wasn’t for that power steering last week, we’d probably have the points lead. Those failures, those troubles, they’re going to come the No. 48′s [Johnson's] way, and when it does, we’ll be there.”

Tony Stewart looked like the only car on the track that had a chance at running down Jimmie.  For most of the race his lap times were close and even mirroring those of the leader.  On the second last caution Stewart took 4 tires while a majority of the teams took only 2.  As the 2 tire crowd started to thin out Stewart made advances back through the field and got himself back up to 6th when the final caution came out.  Stewat made a mistake and slid thgouh his pit causing him to lose 8 spots.  He never recovered from that mistake finishing 15th behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Points leader Carl Edwards looked like junk all day long.  Running at times in 20th place and 2 laps down, Edwards and crew chief Bob Osbourne used their outstanding communication skills to get then changes done and used the correct strategy to get Carl back on the lead lap.  The late race cautions worked in their favor with wave arounds and one well timed Lucky Dog.  Edwards managed to finish 5th in a race where he could have done a whole lot worse.  A fact that was not lost on Carl in post race interviews.

“That’s the worst the car has felt in a race for a long time,” Edwards said.

“We were very fortunate — I do not deserve to be sitting up here,” Edwards said. “We’ve messed-up enough in the past that I’m proud of our ability to keep plugging along. Maybe it’s a test to see if anyone melts down …”

“It didn’t happen Sunday, even if Osborne swore after the race that ‘we were gonna be happy with a 15th, to be honest with you’ — at least I was. ”

“That’s the most we’ve done with a car that wasn’t capable of winning ever, so I’m really proud of my guys who made good adjustments,” Edwards said. “I cannot believe from the way the day started, to finish like that is spectacular.”

Crew Chief Bob Osbourne was in complete agreement.

“Dire straits, definitely, early-on in the race [and] we didn’t anticipate getting a fifth out of it, that’s for sure,” Osborne said. “But this No. 99 crew put their heads down and did all the adjustments I asked them to do, in a timely fashion. We didn’t lose a lot of spots on pit road under green, when we had to make adjustments.”

“They got all the adjustments done under yellow that I asked ‘em to do and Carl got up on the wheel and made things happen that I think most people can’t.”

“I can’t yet say if this was or wasn’t [a championship-caliber performance],” Osborne said. “But you can’t knock the performance that the boys had [Sunday]. Nobody got their heads down, nobody got frustrated — everybody stayed focused and did what had to be done to get the best finish possible and I’m very happy about that.”

Here’s how the standings look after the race in Kansas:

1 +1 Carl Edwards 2161 Leader
2 -1 Kevin Harvick 2160 -1
3 +2 Jimmie Johnson 2157 -4
4 +2 Brad Keselowski 2150 -11
5 +2 Matt Kenseth 2149 -12
6 -2 Kurt Busch 2145 -16
7 -4 Tony Stewart 2142 -19
8 Kyle Busch 2141 -20
9 +1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2118 -43
10 -1 Jeff Gordon 2114 -47
11 Ryan Newman 2107 -54
12 Denny Hamlin 2082 -79

 

NASCAR- Greg Biffle Takes the Pole And Feels Like He Can Win It

 

Greg Biffle with crew chief Matt Puccia - Image courtesy of JDTImages

He may not have unloaded the fastest car at the track, but during each of the 3 practice sessions Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M car, and his crew chief Matt Puccia who has only been with Biffle for 11 races so far, they made wholesale changes and managed to bring the car to life.  Greg Biffle turned a lap of 174.887 mph (30.877 seconds) which was good enough for him to lay claim to the pole position, his second of the year, and 8th of his career at the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Biffle is the defending champion of this race and he certainly knows this track.  His record here of two wins and six top-fives in 10 starts and an average finish of 8.3 certainly stands above the rest of the competitors and you can just see the confidence in his eyes.

“I unloaded off the truck and tried to make a lap and I said we were in big trouble,” Biffle said. “We went from there to being the fastest car [and] it wasn’t in one run. I think that says something about the team, how we started there and ended up [with the pole], how we worked on the car and didn’t lose our patience, confidence and focus on getting the car to go. It was quite amazing.

“Never would have guessed that we would be on the pole. They went back and looked at the data and worked on it. I have to pat myself on the back a little bit because I must have drove a pretty good lap in order to get it up there, but they did a lot of work and really studied it. That says a lot for our team and a lot for Matt. That is what a championship team is made of, someone that can make something out of nothing. That is what we did [Friday]. We started out without very much and we are on the pole for Sunday’s race.”

“I thought Michigan, Chicago, Dover — all of those I thought were places that we could have won at,” Biffle said. “Unfortunately, the two speedway races, Michigan and Chicago, we had items break on the race car. That took us out of contention. We had OK finishes but I think here we’re back in the saddle again.

“This is a mile-and-a-half and our cars are fast and run good on those. I have some wins here and this is obviously a place that we are very capable of winning. I feel the same way about Texas and Phoenix, Charlotte and Homestead. I feel like those are race tracks we can definitely win at. We could win at all of them or none of them. We just have to wait and see.”

Biffle managed to edge out his teammate Carl Edwards who came a close second with a speed of 174.571 mph.  Third-place qualifier Kyle Busch (174.447 mph) split up the Roush Fenway party by beating RFR driver Matt Kenseth (174.436 mph), who will start fourth. Kasey Kahne (174.413 mph) qualified fifth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be starting mid pack in 18th this weekend.  When asked about the last few races and the mechanical problems from last weekend at Dover Jr was sounding relieved and assured that those problems would not rise again.

“There was not enough penetration on that weld. Not enough heat,” Earnhardt said. “That’s what he told me, so that’s what I will go with. I haven’t seen the piece that broke. It’s unfortunate but I’m sure it won’t happen again. Chad Knaus promised me it wouldn’t. I’ll take his word. Pretty strong word.”

A lot of the pundits have been discounting both Dale Jr and Ryan Newman as they sit in the 10th and 11th places in points right now.  Counting them out may be a natural reaction, but with this new points system it really is too early to say.  We’ve seen Brad Kesolowski make a run before the chase from 23rd to 11th in just 9 races and if anyone was watching the points at the start of the chase to now they will realize just how big the points swings have been.  How does Jr feel about his chances within this new points system.

“You don’t really know I guess,” Earnhardt said. “I mean, 34 positions, you can do that in a race. There’s only 43 of us in a race. With the right luck, you can make it happen. We’re going to have to run good to do that. We’ll see how that goes. We’ve had some pretty fast cars, some quick enough cars to have some good finishes. Man, I would like to win a race before the year is out, and I think we can do that as a team. I feel confident that we can do that. I don’t think it’s over by no means.”

Ryan Newman - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Ryan Newman reminded the media that last week they were counting out 5 time champion Jimmie Johnson and yet this weekend he sits 5th in the standings, just 13 points behind the co leaders, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.

“Last week you guys counted Jimmie Johnson potentially out. He bounced back pretty vibrantly, and that was one race,” said Newman, 41 points back in 11th. “We’ve got seven to go, or whatever it is. From my standpoint, just go out there and do our best. It’s no different. But we’re 41 points out — 42 if you want to go for the championship, I guess, because we don’t have the wins to beat some of the guys up there. But we can. There’s still plenty of time. There are still plenty of, I guess, wild cards if you want to say it, between Phoenix and Martinsville and Talladega. We don’t know.”

“You get one mulligan, not two and a half,” Newman said. “I think by no means are we out of a shot for a championship. We’ve just got a pretty steep uphill battle I still think we’re capable of overcoming. I’m not going to say that we’re not. But it’s not going to be easy.”

Other chasers also made excellent points about how the media is reading the standings and looking for a prediction.  No one can predict how things will work out yet especially since no one can predict things like mechanical failure, tire issues, or even how the weather will be effecting the tracks that are left to race at.  Matt Kenseth thinks that it is just too early for those types of predictions.

Matt Kenseth with his daughter Kaylin - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“Last week I went in, and everybody was asking and saying that Jimmie was out of it,” said Kenseth. “I was thinking that he had won the last however many Dover races. I thought that was interesting, because you can have some pretty wild point swings. The further you get down the road, you can start looking at it and see who you think is more legitimate

Tony Stewart - Image courtesy of JDTImages

than others, but there are a lot of cars really close right now. I think it is pretty early to be eliminating anybody.”

Tony Stewart knows better than the rest of the field how big those swings can be.  To go from 10th place to first in the first 2 races of the chase, only to drop back to 3rd place in a points tie with Kyle Busch, Stewart is ready to face the next 7 races.

“We have seven races to go,” Stewart agreed. “You look at how much it changed in the first two weeks. You can stare at the point standings until you are blue in the face. There is a long way to go still. Everybody is worrying way too much about the points and where everybody is at right now.”