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NASCAR Notes: Johnson And Team Face Changing Times

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 15 2009
Jimmie Johnson's pit crew has survived some big changes. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson's pit crew has survived some big changes. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Concord, N.C. – If Jimmie Johnson captures a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, he’ll do so despite being forced to use three different rear-tire changers during the final third of the season.

After rear-tire changer Jeremy West was sidelined by back surgery following the night race at Bristol in August, crew chief Chad Knaus inserted Rich Macco in the slot at the next race in Atlanta.

Three weeks later, Jon Lucas was moved into the position.

Lucas, who resides in Cary, N.C., will handle the tire-changing duties for the second straight week, including Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Johnson met his new rear tire changer for the first time in victory lane following Sunday’s Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

“I wish I could tell you his name, but so much has changed and so much has been going on,” Johnson said. “It was nice to greet him there.”

Johnson admitted that Lucas has been thrust into a pressure-packed situation.

“It’s tough this late in the season to bring in a younger person and somebody new to a team and say ‘ok, here you go. We’re going for a fourth championship and, by the way, we’re mid-way into the Chase and we need to win today and have a good race,’” Johnson said with a slight laugh.

“It’s a tough thing. I commend the guys who are trying and, hopefully, the situation we have now will work out for the rest of the year.”

Upon further review, Greg Biffle admits that he shouldn’t have squeezed eventual race-winner Joey Logano’s Toyota into the wall during Saturday’s Nationwide Series Copart 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

Biffle was still seething over contact he received from Logano a week earlier at Kansas Speedway.

“We made more contact than I certainly expected,” said Biffle, who wound up 14th.

“You can blame it on me for just plain running him into the wall. I shouldn’t have done that. He worked on his car and fixed it and was able to come back.

“Unfortunately for me, it was the last run of the day in Kansas and I didn’t have an opportunity to fix my car.”

If Kurt Busch isn’t a factor in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship entering the season finale in Homestead next month, don’t be surprised to see crew chief Pat Tryson make an early exit from the No. 2 Dodge team.

“If we find ourselves out of championship contention, that’s when we’ll make a big change and maybe get the new (crew chief) in there and get a couple races under our belt before we show up back in Daytona,” said Busch, who is currently sixth and 121 points behind Johnson in the Chase standings.

Tryson announced last month that he’ll leave the Penske organization at season’s end and become Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010.

When his Sprint Cup teams struggled earlier this decade, Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush elected to swap crew chiefs within the organization.

The move included temporarily shifting crew chief Bob Osborne away from Carl Edwards.

Edwards, who is winless this season, won’t be so cooperative this time around if his boss attempts to separate him from his longtime crew chief.

“(Roush) better stay away from Bob Osborne,” Edwards said. “What’s going on right now, for instance Bob and I, we won all these races last year, we did great and everything was wonderful. It seemed like we could win every week.

“He’s the same guy. I’m the same driver. I feel like we’re even better than we were with our capabilities. I don’t think changing personnel at that level is what we need to do, and I don’t think Jack feels that way.

“We just have to figure out mechanically what is different about our race car and the cars that are beating us, and that’s where it comes in. That’s where the problem-solving needs to be done.

“I don’t know about other teams, but I know for the 99 team, Bob Osborne is my crew chief. I would give up almost anything before I’d give up Bob Osborne again.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 15 2009
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