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Pedley: Jimmie’s Team Is A Man Short At Daytona

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 14 2012

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus not together again at Daytona this week. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Quotes and comments from and about Thursday’s Day 2 of the two-day Sprint Cup test at Daytona International Speedway:

The image, at least, of crew chief Chad Knaus is that of a micro manager. A guy who has to not only put his fingerprints on every aspect of things affecting the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, but on every aspect of every aspect of those things.

But that image might be taking a hit this week. Any Knaus fingerprints to be found on Hendrick gear were put there back at the shop as the man behind the winning of five straight Sprint Cup championships is not even in attendance at the big open test at Daytona.

Knaus is on vacation.

That certainly should not be construed to mean, however, that racing is far from Knaus’s mind – or smart phone. While real Chad is taking it easy somewhere, E-Chad is at the team’s elbows.

“He’s been texting and emailing, so there still is that communication taking place,” driver Jimmie Johnson said Friday.

Johnson also said the fact that the 48 team has been together for so many years, and been so successful during those years, team members are allowed to take vacation breaks.

“We’ve got a very confident race team, and everybody is following the test plan, and we’re going through the motions,” Johnson said. “Truthfully a lot of the work for this test was done at the shop getting prepared, and now we’re just following a test plan.

“It’s worked out well for Chad to take some time for himself, and I’m really happy that he has decided to do this. As we all know, he doesn’t give himself much personal time, and I’ve been on a similar trip to the one he’s on now and know how special it was to Chandy and I. I can’t wait to hear the stories when he gets back and what he goes through. It’s been a nice calm test so far.”

More signs about the role that sponsors play in racing surfaced on Thursday when team owner Richard

Kurt Busch could have been wearing Petty blue. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Petty said that he wanted to hire Kurt Busch to drive his iconic No. 43 car for the 2012 season but the deal was nixed by sponsors.

Busch, who subsequently was hired by much-smaller Phoenix Racing for 2012, was asked about Petty’s comments on Friday and said he was kind of surprised.

“And talking with King,” the 2004 Cup champion said, “it was weird to hear his comments yesterday because he was ready to throw me in the car and we would have been down the road. But the contracts just didn’t align on where they were and where I wanted to be, and so I talked with (Phoenix owner James) Finch, made the deal happen. But also talked with Waltrip Racing. I went to meet with Richard Childress at his winery and talk shop.

“Just the doors that were opened during this off-season to talk to people, yes, 2012 is going to be a unique year for somebody such as myself. But to take a step back for me personally and look at all of this, this is what I need. And all along we’re going to keep our eyes on the prize in 2013.”

Bottom line: Don’t look for Kurt Busch to speak his mind in 2012. He is on corporate super-secret probation.

In 2010, Jamie McMurray surely would have won the comeback driver of the year award if there were such a thing.

And if there were such a thing, and McMurray were again to win a couple of important races and make

Jamie McMurray says attitude is on the mend at EGR. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

the Chase in the upcoming season, he would probably win it again in 2012. He and his team sunk that far last year.

On Friday, McMurray said, however, that 2013 might be a better target for a big comeback for his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team.

“I don’t think you’re going to see just immediate results because it’s going to take a little time, and our speedway cars don’t seem to be just where they need to be yet,” McMurray said.

But McMurray said a lot of things have been revamped at EGR. Lots of key new people. And lots of new attitude.

“From my perspective looking at it, it seems much more organized and everyone seems to be behind us,” McMurray said. “One thing that I remember about going over to CGR when I left Roush was walking through the shop and everybody in there being proud of what they had built, and I remember walking through there and a guy grabbing a gas pedal and saying, look, I built this gas pedal, and it’s eight grams lighter than we what we had last year. Every single person had that mindset in there of being proud of what they had built.

“We lost a little bit of that last year because we were changing our car so much, it was something different every week. I feel like guys are back in that same mindset of being proud of what they’re producing, and they’ve made our cars much more adjustable than what they were last year. We’ll be trying a lot of stuff to start the season off, and obviously you make changes thinking they’re going to be better.

“As of right now that’s the way we feel, that Chip has made some good changes, and I feel like we’ve got some really good teams right now.”

Speeds were high again Friday at the test. Well over 200 mph. In the past, 200 mph was the red flag number. The number that signaled potential trouble for teams, drivers and NASCAR.

NASCAR official John Darby was asked about the speeds at the test and also what he expects on race day next month.

Darby said, “We’ll still end up over 200 miles an hour. We’d like to stay as close to that mark as we can. Probably the last four or five plate races we’ve been in a range of 200 to 203 miles an hour, maybe not a consistent, every lap speed, but we’ve seen those speeds. We’ve done a lot of wind tunnel work over the winter and have effectively brought the liftoff speed of the cars up, which is good. It keeps them, helps keep them down.

“If we were to put a target mark, it would probably be right at 200 for our race speed, which the drivers like. Obviously the excitement level of 200 miles an hour is always present for the fans, but a lot of the work we’ve done is to try to close the delta between a conventional draft and a two-car push. And what’s become very apparent very quickly is that as we get into a little bit of the higher speeds of racing, that helps us greatly. Last year it was a seven-mile-an-hour difference, we’ve more than knocked that in half just in a couple of days quickly. That’s what we’d like to continue to work on.”

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 14 2012
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