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Johnson Has Chasers Thinking ‘Uh-Oh’

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 16 2009
Chad Knaus spent time on Thursday figuring out how to frustrate other drivers in the Chase. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

No. 48 Chevrolet crew chief Chad Knaus spent time on Thursday figuring out how to frustrate other drivers in the Chase. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Concord, N.C. – At the very least, the 11 drivers who now trail Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship are publicly keeping stiff upper lips. They are saying Johnson’s lead is not insurmountable, there are still six races to go and that anything can happen in racing.

But…

Johnson showed up at Lowe’s Motor Speedway this week fresh off a victory at Auto Club Speedway and with a newly minted points lead which is between 12 and 200 points more than the seven of the drivers who can still be considered involved in the Chase.

Johnson is at a track where he has dominated in the past this weekend and he is heading to another of his best tracks next weekend.

In fact, Johnson has done well at most of the remaining six tracks, especially during Chases past and especially especially during the last three Chases; you know, the Chases Johnson has won.

You would think that those behind him in this year’s Chase would be kind of deflated by what they are facing as the season winds down.

“No, not at all,” Greg Biffle, who is seventh in points and 188 behind Johnson, said brusquely  Thursday.

But then he explained, “I mean, there was deflation with me because I finished 20th (at Auto Club). I got wrecked and was pretty unhappy.  I haven’t talked to Mark or any of those other guys, so I don’t know how they would be disappointed, but I’m certainly disappointed with a 20th-place finish for our team.”

Jeff Gordon finished second the last two races. Yet he will start Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500 four spots and 105 points behind Johnson.

Deflating?

“I don’t really think deflation at this point because there is too much racing left to go,” he said.

But…

“It definitely sends the ‘uh, oh’ message,” Gordon said. “You don’t want these guys to get on a roll. We’ve seen what they have done in the past. I think that it shows that they are as strong as they have ever been and it is going to take a lot to beat them. It is motivation for a lot of people.”

Johnson has won five times at Lowe’s. He has slipped a bit the last couple of years but on Thursday he was fastest in practice and qualifying.

Someone suggested to Biffle that the Chases have become a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day” as the same thing keeps happening over and over , and that thing is Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team turn it on and run away when it matters most.

“All we can do is be optimistic about our programs and try to figure out a way to beat him each week,” Biffle said on a rainy Thursday afternoon. “We come here to Lowe’s, we’ve got a great plan.  We’ve sat down and talked about it. As soon as this weather gets out of here, we’re excited to get on the race track and see what we can do with our cars.  That’s how we approach every week.  Whether we can beat the 48 or the 5 or the 24, whoever it is, we’ll just wait and see what happens, but that’s all we can do every week is do our best.”

Carl Edwards, who finished second to Johnson in the Chase last year, was asked the “Groundhog Day” question. Then he was asked how to put an end to it.

“We have to figure out what about our operation, our problem-solving, our testing, what allows them to be ahead more in the curve than the rest of us, Edwards, eight in points, said. “I think that’s what everyone has to look at is we have to figure out what their process is and how they do so well because it’s spectacular.  Not to take anything away from Jimmie as a driver, but they are always on top of it with strategy, equipment, failure rates, qualifying, all the things that make an entire package they’re very good.”

Sounds like a few lips in the garages may be beginning to quiver.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 16 2009
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