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Johnson Will Have Long Way To Go In Short Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 13 2013

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson will start from the back of the field Sunday in Loudon. They are viewing that as a challenge. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

LOUDON, N.H. – Mistakes happen. Just not that often to the No. 48 team.

Five-time champion and current points leader Jimmie Johnson will start from the rear of the 43-car field Sunday in the Camping World RV Sales 301 because his Friday qualifying lap, good for second on the grid, was disallowed because the front end of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was a fraction too low on both sides.

Starting at the back isn’t all that bad for a driver like Johnson with a fast car, even in a race as short as this one. But having the last pit selection on a tight pit road like the one at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is certainly a handicap.

Chad Knaus, Johnson’s longtime crew chief and mentor, tried to shrug off the situation.

Asked if this changes the team’s strategy for the 301-lap race on the 1.058-mile oval, Knaus waffled.

“Well, shoot. I don’t know,’’ he said. “We’ll have to get going here. That dust hasn’t settled, yet. We’ll have to be aggressive.

“The thing about this race is it’s very short. You’ve got to get in there, you’ve got to be aggressive. I look forward to the challenge. I think it’s going to be fun.’’

The often intense Knaus was smiling and loose as he talked about the penalty Friday evening, probably because his team heads into the race leading the standings by 49 points over second-place Clint Bowyer and 71 over third-place Carl Edwards with just eight races remaining until the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Knaus is normally a perfectionist and having his team make such a big mistake in qualifying had to really irk him. But he appeared to take it all in stride, probably because a driver can earn a maximum of 48 points in a race, meaning Johnson could take a weekend off and still be leading.

The problem with the car began before Johnson qualified.

“Yes, we saw that there was an issue like the left side was real high and the right side was real low and to try to manage those heights,’’ he explained. “We knew there was something that just wasn’t jiving right. We were able to get through (pre-qualifying inspection) and then, afterwards, the cars settle a little bit, especially with a track like Loudon.

“I think you see how low the cars are around the racetrack. You run a lot of shock. You run a lot of front rebound. It takes a little bit for the cars to come up. With the way that we’re measuring the heights now, you really don’t have a lot of room for error and we just had a little error.’’

Reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski will start from the pole, with former series champ Kurt Busch moving up to the front row. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch will start from row two, followed by four-time champ Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.

But many race fans will have their eyes on the rear of the field to see if Johnson can overcome his bad fortune.

Knaus says he isn’t worried.

“The car is fast,’’ he said. “The car is fine.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 13 2013
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