Jimmie Johnson speaks out on that evasive Michigan win; and what does Chad Knaus have up his sleeve in terms of Chase prep?
He's having another great year, in fact he's dominating the points and is the only driver already qualified for the Chase. He's the presumptive favorite to win the Cup in 2013, based on how well he's run so far this season, and the team seems to be running on all cylinders.
But at Michigan International Speedway, there's that pesky little issue about not having won a race here. Of the few tracks where Jimmie has not win, MIS is the one he's raced at the most. Jimmie has four top-5 runs at MIS, and nine top-10s. He was fast in practice, as usual, but can he finally translate that to a MIS win?
“I certainly want to get the No. 48 to Victory Lane. We’ve tried a lot of years now and have been very close here, but haven’t been able to pull that off," Jimmie said Friday. "And we had issues that kept all four cars out of great finishes in the Spring race and if we can avoid the varying issues that took place, I think we stand a really good chance of getting into Victory Lane.”
“Yeah, I do pay attention to the tracks I haven’t won at. It’s more on the front side going to the event and building excitement about racing at the track and wanting to win. When the race starts, it doesn’t go through my mind at that point. It has when opportunity slips by, especially here. We’ve been so close that it certainly enters my mind at that point.
Despite having such a strong cushion, the 48 team isn't doing much experimenting with the car, Jimmie said, because it hasn't worked for the team in the past.
“We’ve worked really hard to maintain the same mindset. There was a year where we started some radical testing and concepts with the car and got off base and entered the Chase pretty weak and not up to par where we wanted to be. So, I think we learned that lesson. I wanted to say that was in 2007 or somewhere in there. But, since then, we really want to obviously perform as good as we can week in and week out. I think there’s a lot in that. And the way things are anymore, especially with the new car, you have to bring something new to the track each week and keep evolving. So, the mindset that we started the year with is really where we’re at now. We’re not making a stronger effort to try different things with the race car and the set-up."
He said test sessions will be more helpful to the team in terms of Chase preparation.
"We just tested in New Hampshire and we’re going to test at Richmond next week. We have a few more out there that we’ll try to use to try to be prepared for the Chase. But, honestly, there hasn’t been a different mindset this year. We’ve had pace. We’re proud of that. We need to execute. We’ve left some wins on the table and we need to not do that. But, we’ve got to keep inching forward. We can’t sit still. And we’ll try to carry that momentum right into the start of the Chase.”
My take: The brain of Chad Knaus does not sit still, especially now that he's comfortable in the points and in the Chase already. I'm sure something's brewing in that mind, even if Jimmie's not aware of it. That's a big part of the reason Jimmie is a five-time champion -- his team often has the luxury to think long-term when others are thinking week-to-week.
The craziest thing about Jimmie is how he kind of came out of nowhere, running just two full Nationwide seasons will little fanfare (1 win, four top-5s, 15 top-10s) before exploding in the Cup series. A lot of the instant growth he showed at the Cup level can be attributed to Knaus, who is no doubt scheming at this very hour on how to get another Cup for the 48 team.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.