Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus hit another speed bump, unfortunately it's right in the middle of the Chase.
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Has the partnership of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus run its course?
Over the last 12 years, there hasn’t been a driver/crew chief pairing as successful as the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports duo which has produced six championship and 69 wins in 466 starts.
But last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was clear the pressure of fighting to remain in the Chase was eating at the once unflappable Johnson.
With less than 100 laps remaining in the race, Knaus was concerned when Johnson’s lap times were off. He offered suggestions to his driver, who didn’t appreciate the inference that he wasn’t already up on the wheel.
Racing is cyclical
For Johnson and Knaus, this isn’t the first time thing have become heated during a race this season – or during the last decade when the crew has hit a rough patch. And though Johnson admits “no one likes it” he takes comfort that the low points generally don’t last.
We’ll keep working hard to get out of it, and past history shows that we do.
“We’ll keep working hard to get out of it, and past history shows that we do,” Johnson said. “I think we were in a good position to finish well last weekend, although I don’t know if that would have changed much.
“Granted, it would give us a much better position on just a great finish here; we could have gone for a top-five and opened our window to transfer. We’ll take our lumps and go. That’s all we can do.”
Still, one has to wonder: Is it time for another ‘milk and cookies meeting’ with the boss?
“Frustration is high, for sure,” Johnson said. “Chad and I in our relationship, we’ve have had peaks and valleys. We’ve had times where there has been plenty of frustration on the radio. But who we are and what we are as a team and the way our relationship works and us moving forward…things are still as they have always been.”
Except now Johnson finds himself in the Chase for the Sprint Cup cellar. He’s 57 points behind Joey Logano – with only Talladega to determine the Elite Eight drivers which will make it to the Eliminator Round.
For Johnson, who has never finished worse than sixth in the Sprint Cup point standings, it’s win on Sunday or compete for fifth-place. Unfortunately, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the same predicament.
Traditionally, the drivers have helped each other in restrictor plate competition, but Johnson says on Sunday it’s every man for himself.
At the end of a race, it doesn’t matter if it's Junior or my mom or anybody – I've got to win.
“At the end of a race, it doesn’t matter if it's Junior or my mom or anybody – I've got to win," Johnson said. “My quest to win a seventh championship is the thing I’m most concerned about. I know my teammates are going to think the same way and have the same approach.
"We’re out there to win for our teams and ourselves to move on and have a shot at the championship.”
Although Johnson has three wins this season, his last victory was at Michigan in June. Michigan was also the site of the last track he was able to lead a lap – eight races ago.
No, Johnson isn’t pleased with his performance – nor with his behavior on the radio last Saturday.
We’re not happy with where we’re at, and I don’t know why we would be.
“It isn’t fun, and I’m sure everyone hear plenty of colorful things from drivers and crew chiefs during the course of a race,” Johnson said. “Last weekend there was plenty of color on our channel. It just comes with the territory.
“We’re not happy with where we’re at, and I don’t know why we would be. It’s unfortunate that sometimes those things are aired on the radio and innocent bystanders hear – children and others out there – but it’s just part of it.”
Wait until next year
And in case the No. 48 Lowes team doesn’t transfer into the Chase on Sunday, Johnson will scrutinize every segment of the operation. There are already rumors circulating in the garage that Johnson's pit crew will be moving on next year.
The timing might be right for Johnson to make the necessary improvements and set his sights on 2015.
“Depending on how this weekend goes, we’ll know what the rest of the year looks like for us,” Johnson said. “If we don’t win, it will be in our best interest to look at 2015 and what we need to do on all fronts for the ’15 season – including the new rules package.
“Our vision will shift at that point and try to get a head start on the field and start next year where we need to be.”