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Cup Teams Won’t Catch Johnson By Standing Still

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 26 2010

Kurt Busch says standing still in pursuit of Jimmie Johnson will mean falling further behind. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

If anything can be learned from the past five Sprint Cup seasons, it’s that staying the course isn’t the way to stop Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team when it comes time to decide the season championship.

Many a driver has said that they don’t really change their approach once the Chase starts. Back at the fall Martinsville race, Kevin Harvick explained his team’s approach to catching Johnson.

“This has just been a good year for us and we’re not going to do anything different,” he said. “If we hit a home run this weekend, we hit a home run. If we don’t, there is no reason to worry about trying to force anything.

“And we just keep plugging away…. I feel like we need to win a race in the next five to make it happen, but when you start forcing things to happen, you’ll wind up with a 35th (place finish) and then you’ll be done. To be in the game, you have to be close enough to be a part of the game. And we’ll just keep racing.”

He got basically the same question a few moments later and was more direct in his answer.

“I just told you what I wanted to do this weekend,” he said. “I want to do what we’ve been doing. I want to do what we’ve been doing. I want to go out and race as fast as our car will go and race my own race.”

That approach is plenty reasonable, but for the past five years nobody’s been able to beat Johnson, so it seems obvious that some additional measures will be necessary if NASCAR isn’t going to have a sixth-straight title for Johnson as the story this time next year.

After all, it was Johnson and his crew that made the call to stretch fuel at Phoenix, a move that turned the tide of this year’s Chase battle.

Kurt Busch indicated on a teleconference recently that he and his team have determined that

To keep a sixth Cup championship trophy out of Jimmie Johnson's hands, teams had better step it up next year. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

they’ll have to step it up a good bit to be a legitimate contender for the championship.

“Well, we had a strong start to our season with wins at Atlanta and the sweep of the Charlotte race weekends,” Busch said. “And the second half of the year, the way we looked at our first half after the evaluation, we thought we needed everything the same, and that wasn’t the case.”

He said he and the folks at Penske Racing are already stepping up their efforts.

“We’ve got quite a few things happening here in the off‑season with structural design changes to the chassis, personnel changes, and just trying to be as competitive and as sharp as we can be through this off‑season to make sure that we start off next year right where we were last year,” he said. “Thinking sometimes when things are going well that you’ve got to sit there when you should be continuing to make changes and not get stagnant, so maybe that’s one thing that hurt us in the second half of last year.”

His team has some additional motivation this year. He’s changing car numbers, from the Miller Lite-sponsored No. 2 to No. 22 with backing from Shell-Pennzoil and Auto Club of Southern California. His teammate Brad Keselowski gets the Blue Deuce.

Busch isn’t just talking for the teleconference participants. He’ll be behind the wheel this week at a test at Daytona International Speedway.

“I know for us at Penske Racing with the 2 and the 22, we need to be there on track, gathering data, understanding as much as we can about the new surface at Daytona,” he said. “We know that it’s the most prestigious race for us all year long, and if we can come out of the gates strong, we need to have as many test sessions at tracks as we can get, and that means tracks that we race on.

“Of course we’re going to have to head to some other short tracks to get some more information.  We have to continue to push hard, and I don’t think it costs all that much out of our budgets to head down to Daytona and shake some cars down getting ready for the Daytona 500.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 26 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    I just don’t see Penski-Dodge-Fiat……being the team with the driver who pulls the sword from the stone. Like Penski I don’t see RCR having enough to work with that could make a difference.
    Gibbs will have same driver fits and bad gas milage.
    The only teams with positive acceleration factors like….more powerful engine and new nose….. are Ford Teams.
    So if anyone slays the # 48 dragon it will be the knight with the magic FR 9 sword…..