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Race Day: Will Jimmie Get A Helping Hand?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 15 2011

Can Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus count on help from teammates? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Suddenly, and thanks to a victory last weekend at Kansas Speedway, Jimmie Johnson is again the hot pick to win the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. Should things pan out, the championship would be the sixth straight for Johnson.

And should he win the sixth-straight championship, Johnson would be in line to win a seventh, which would tie him with American racing icons Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the top of championship heap.

So, yes, this is a big Chase for Johnson.

Is it so big that he should be afforded “special” help from his teammates? Should/will Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – both of whom are in the Chase but likely out of the chase – aid Johnson’s stroll toward history?

Here is what those two drivers had to say about questions related to that topic:

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, when asked if he would consider giving up position to Johnson at some point: “If there comes a time when we are mathematically out of the championship, we will consider that.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, when asked if would give

Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

up a position to help Johnson: “If I am racing for the win, he is going to have to race me pretty hard. We are pretty thirsty right now for a win. You just handle it when the situation comes up and I feel like I am a pretty smart driver and I know what is on the line for some of these guys and I just think I’m a smart guy and I can make a smart decision and make the right decision when the time comes and I won’t need any help from Steve or anyone else to know when the time is right, I like to race, I like to race from every position, but at the same time, you do what you think is right and what you think is the right decision at the time. It is just a case by case scenario.

“If you are running in the back, and he needs a point, that might be reasonable to give him 24th, when it is all said and done. We race out of the same shop and I got the same guys as he does putting my cars together so we work as a group and as a team in several aspects of the sport, but when it comes to racing in the top ten and top five I think you have to race hard and for those positions.”

Fast facts

What: Fifth race of the Chase

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway; Concord, N.C.

When: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Race distance: 334 laps/501 miles

Track layout: 1.5-mile oval

2010 winner: Jamie McMurray

2010 polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Tonight’s polesitter: Tony Stewart

Points leaders: 1. Carl Edwards, 2,161 ; 2. Kevin Harvick, 2,160 ; 3. Jimmie Johnson, 2,157 ; 4. Brad Keselowski, 2,150 ; 5. Matt Kenseth, 2,149 ; 6. Kurt Busch, 2,145 ; 7. Tony Stewart, 2,142 ; 8. Kyle Busch, 2,141 ; 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,118 ; 10. Jeff Gordon, 2,114 ; 11. Ryan Newman, 2,107 ; 12. Denny Hamlin, 2,082.

Trivia time

Who was the last Ford driver to win at Charlotte?

No favorite?

Tonight’s race will be the ninth time this season that the Cup series has raced at 1.5-mile ovals. No driver has more than one victory in the previous eight 1.5-races.

Jimmie Johnson, who won last week at 1.5-mile Kansas, was asked his thoughts about that stat.

“I think it is going to continue,” he said. “I think that’s the way the year has been and the year will continue to go. Just difficult to predict who’s going to be the dominate guy and to have a favorite. I think we’re going to see a lot more of the same over the next six races. I think that we’ve had strategy play a big part in the fact that we haven’t had repeat winners on mile-and-a-halves, with fuel mileage and things like that taking place. Even down to how many tires you put on the car. It’s kind of changed the outcome of a lot of races. I guess I’m thinking of Dover. That’s not a mile-an-a-half by any means, but, I think it is more in the strategy and in the race calling that’s changed that around than the fact the fast car always finds its way to the front.”

Time and temperature

The Charlotte Motor Speedway surface is known to be one that his super sensitive to temperature changes.

Does that mean that a race held totally at night will be easier to figure for teams and drivers?

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge, said: “Yeah definitely.  This is usually the first time we can find the cool conditions here in Charlotte and the track really seems to give you the grip right away even though the sunshine is out.”

Computer error

Tony Stewart, when asked if teams could rely more on computer simulations: “I have never seen a computer climb out of the car in victory lane so I am going to say the computer is still not as valuable as the guys that still has to drive it on race day.”

Trivia Answer

Mark Martin was the last Ford driver to win a Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He did it while driving for Roush Racing in 2002.

Up next

The Cup series moves to Talladega for the final plate race of the season. Clint Bowyer won last year’s fall race at the 2.66-mile oval.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 15 2011
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