Crew chief Knaus a hero for late-race pit call at Atlanta
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Jimmie Johnson and his No.48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team can do no wrong in this year's "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship, as evidenced by their remarkable comeback in Sunday's race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Johnson was caught speeding while entering pit road during a round of green- flag stops on Lap 98, and after serving his drive-through penalty, he fell one lap down in 30th place.
"I made that mistake getting onto pit road I guess," Johnson said. "I'm not sure where. But somewhere I was speeding and had to do that pass through on green flag stop conditions. It just killed us."
With the help of crew chief, Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson charged from 11th to second in the remaining laps.
This was supposed to be Johnson's mulligan in the Chase, but that turned out not to be necessary.
Carl Edwards took home the trophy for winning the race, his seventh Cup victory of the season, but Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, should have won an award for being the most valuable player in the event.
Johnson managed to get back on the lead lap during the mid-stages, but it was a gutsy late-race call by Knaus that helped the two-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion score an impressive second-place finish and increase his lead to 183 points with just three races to go.
During the final caution, Johnson pitted for four new tires, dropping him from seventh to 11th for the restart with just eight laps to go. The pit strategy paid off, as Johnson charged from 11th to second in the remaining laps.
"That was just a great call," Johnson said. "I mean, a risky call, but it shows that Chad's out there racing. He's not trying to ride around and just get points. He's out there trying to earn them. He called me in for tires and told me to put my cape on and off we went. I'm very happy that we got second place."
With Knaus guiding his efforts, Johnson remains the only driver who has scored top-10 finishes in this year's Chase, as he continues to move closer towards tying Cale Yarborough's record of three consecutive Cup championships.
"I want to get in the top-five," Knaus said. "I felt like we could do a top- five pretty easily at that point. I felt like if we just stayed where we were at in seventh, I don't know if we would have finished in the top-10."
Perhaps no one was more surprised with Johnson's second-place finish than Edwards. The Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver capped off his victory at Atlanta by doing his celebratory back flip from his car, but when he found out where Johnson finished, the win suddenly became bittersweet.
"Are you kidding me?" Edwards said. "I could have done without that one."
Edwards moved up to second in the standings, but only gained 16 points on Johnson.
Greg Biffle finished 10th and fell 185 points behind, while Jeff Burton dropped 218 back after an 18th-place run.
With Texas, Phoenix and Homestead remaining on the schedule, Johnson has to feel very comfortable about capturing his third title, as he has won last year's fall race at Texas and the last two events at Phoenix.
Knaus has been Johnson's crew chief since his rookie season in 2002, and if the team captures the Sprint Cup title, he'll become the first crew chief to lead three consecutive championship efforts.