No Wigging Out in Dover
While Johnson and his Lowe’s mates put on a monster of a performance during the 400-mile race, spontaneous mischief erupted afterward when the team, including driver Johnson, donned rainbow-colored circus wigs in victory lane. It was a playful homage to the paint scheme that decorated the No. 48 car that weekend, which featured the characters from the movie, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”
Safe to say there will be no wigging out for the No. 48 team when it arrives for Sunday’s AAA 400, the third of 10 races in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Johnson’s record is stellar at the Monster Mile. His driver rating is tops among active drivers and his seven wins in 21 races ties him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most wins at the track.
In the last nine Dover races, Johnson has just one finish outside the top-10 – a 16th-place run in the June 2010 event – and he has four wins in those nine races (June and September 2009, September 2010 and June 2012). Johnson and crew have only three finishes in 21 Dover races outside the top-15, twice due to accidents and the other being his 16th place in June 2010. Even more daunting is his finish at the track at Chase time, keeping himself in the hunt for the championship every year by 14th or better each September.
So while there is a lot on the line as the Sprint Cup competitors prepare for the third race in the Chase, including Johnson’s tenuous one-point lead atop the championship standings, he and the team know there’s no reason to wig out – at least if you look at the stats.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
You have seven wins at Dover. What do you love about the track? “The intensity you have to drive that track with. It really fits my style. It’s the closest track we have to being airborne each lap with the drop-off into turns one and three. It’s just cool you’ve got to bring your big-boy pants every lap there and I love it.”
Looking at Dover, Brad (Keselowski) and Denny (Hamlin) have been pretty outspoken about how much they are dreading this weekend. Safe to assume you have the opposite view? Do you feel like you go in there with a little bit of an edge? “Well, I do. They are both great drivers and great teams. They have the ability to figure out that racetrack. From my own experiences, tracks that were hard on me I was able to figure them out over time and learn how to win at those tracks. I’m not ruling them out but, when I look through the Chase tracks, there are certain guys I expect to be strong at whatever racetrack. At Chicago, I felt like the No. 2 (Keselowski) was going to be strong and he certainly was. At New Hampshire, I look to the No. 11 (Hamlin) and what he did in the spring. This week, I feel the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) is going to be a big threat. He got off to a bad start at Chicago. You start thinking through who you feel you are going to have to race on what track and what might be your strong tracks versus your weak tracks. I feel like this weekend is a good opportunity for the No. 48 on a lot of the field, a lot of the Chasers, to get some points on them.”
Is Dover always your kind of ace in the hole in the Chase? It seems like, when you have gotten off to a bad start before, that place is always going to be where you know you are going to come out of there with a lot of points. “Yeah, so far it’s been a great track for us. The thing there that is tough, and we have been very fortunate to miss it, if something happens, we know it’s a self-cleaning track and you get torn up pretty bad because you are going so fast. If we can run up front and kind of control the race and control who we are racing around, I feel we can make up a lot or hopefully distance ourselves. I want to come out of there with the points lead and hopefully we can distance ourselves from the guys.”
How do you control that race? Is that just strategy with Chad Knaus (crew chief) or just the fact that you lead so many laps? “Running up front, in the top-three, top-five, especially, early to midway through the race, are just generous to a large degree and not pushing the issue. When you are back in 15th, 20th, it’s cut throat. At a track that fast, a small mistake happens, it could take you right out of the race. Running up front, you really can have the best chance of controlling your own destiny.”
CHAD KNAUS, Crew Chief of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
Why has the 48 team been so successful at Dover? “I don’t know that there’s anything you can say that has helped us be successful there as opposed to anywhere else. It’s one of Jimmie’s favorite tracks and he has taken to it well. He is comfortable there, so his communication as far as the track changes helps us a great deal. When a driver can give you that kind of feedback, it’s always helpful.”
Is doing well at Dover a good indication of who will win the championship? “I wouldn’t say that after Dover there is a clear indication of who is going to win the championship. Things are so close right now, everyone is still in this. I’m not saying you can’t be in a better or worse spot after this race, but I just don’t know that having a good run equates to winning the championship. There’s too much racing left. It is a pivotal race in the Chase, so that’s why it’s important to run well there in the spring, obviously. Luckily, we were able to do that, so we will have good notes to work from when we start the weekend.”
Source: Jimmie Johnson media