Jimmie Johnson moves closer to NASCAR legends
Jimmie Johnson reeled off back-to-back wins with his Bristol conquest on Monday, and now a much larger goal looms in front of him. Mr. Johnson, meet Mr. Yarborough. Mr. Allison and Mr. Waltrip, you're next. The Hendrick Motorsports driver and seven-time premier series champion continued to climb NASCAR's all-time wins list with his "Colosseum" conquest, and he is homing in on passing a triumvirate of legends with every victory. Now with 82 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, Johnson is one behind Cale Yarborough (83) for sixth place on the all-time wins list. Beyond Yarborough are Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip at 84. That's just two more wins than Johnson currently has. Yes, it is conceivable -- perhaps even probable -- that Johnson will pass all three on the list in the same season and end 2017 fourth on the all-time wins tally. "It's mind-blowing," Johnson said. "I cannot believe that we're sitting here with 82 wins. That is such a big number. Yeah, and to be 7 or 8 years old, whatever I was, traveling around the country racing dirt bikes and walking into my first Hardee's, and I thought it was a race shop for Cale Yarborough and then I realized it was a hamburger stand. ... To be in this position is quite an honor. But I honestly wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for (crew chief) Chad Knaus and (team owner) Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, Lowe's, all the consistent things that I've had through my career. This has really been the environment for me to thrive in." Sit back and enjoy it. History is at hand.
Clear skies, sailing for Johnson in Bristol victory
RELATED: Race results " Stage results " Full schedule for Richmond SHOP: Winner gear! MORE: Detailed race breakdown Jimmie Johnson surged to victory in the rain-delayed Food City 500 on Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Johnson powered the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet to his second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, leading 81 of the 500 laps. His 82nd win of his career was his second on the .533-mile Tennessee track. The victory moved Johnson another step up NASCAR's all-time win list, putting him one triumph behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough and two back from fellow inductees Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. "That's just mind-blowing," said Johnson, who sits seventh on the all-time list. "I wouldn’t be here without Mr. Hendrick's support. Thanks to him and to Jeff Gordon for believing in me. For Hendrick Motorsports to make this job kind of a family environment for all of us to thrive in has been a perfect environment for me and (crew chief) Chad Knaus, and for the consistent group of guys behind me through all these years has led to the environment to win 82 races, or whatever it is, which is just insane. I'm truly humbled." Clint Bowyer took second place in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford, 1.199 seconds behind the race winner in his best finish since running second at Richmond on April 27, 2013. His late-race boost secured his second top-five finish of the season, but wasn't enough to unseat Johnson from the top spot. "It is frustrating, you could see him out there," Bowyer said, "but dammit, you'd think he'd get tired of winning all these races." Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano completed the top five. Pole-starter Kyle Larson seemed poised for a top-five finish after leading the opening 202 laps and snagging a Stage 1 win, but a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 423 knocked him back to 17th in the running order. He rallied to a sixth-place finish and maintained his lead in the season-long standings. "Yeah, disappointed in myself," said Larson, who emerged with a 27-point lead over Chase Elliott in the standings. "I think I speed on pit road every single time I come to Bristol. So, got to clean that up." Martin Truex Jr., the Stage 2 winner and leader of 116 laps, was also bitten by a speeding penalty on pit road with 34 laps remaining. The infraction shuffled him to 15th place for the final run to the finish. He wound up eighth. "I thought I was exactly where I was the time before, so the time before must have been close," Truex said of his pit road timing. "Typically we don't get many speeding penalties for this team, but today we were just pushing the issue trying to get a win and sometimes they'll get you." RELATED: Photo gallery of at-track sights at Bristol Several other big names finished well off the pace after a variety of pitfalls. Kyle Busch, a five-time Bristol winner, rallied from a brush with the wall into the top 10, but a second hit sidelined him after 383 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran just 218 laps before his day was done, a Turn 1 wall crunch and a broken oil cooler ending his race. Brad Keselowski, a two-time winner this year, and Ryan Blaney also spent extended time behind the wall with steering issues. The event was delayed one day because of persistent rain Sunday. The series' next race is the Toyota Owners 400 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) at Richmond International Raceway. Contributing: NASCAR Wire Service &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Johnson inches closer to 'mind-blowing' number
Jimmie Johnson won his 82nd career race on Monday, putting him just one behind Cale Yarborough -- even if the Hendrick Motorsports driver can hardly believe it.
Race Rewind: Bristol in 15
From Kurt Busch's early spin to Jimmie Johnson winning his 82nd Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, relive all of Bristol's best moments in this week's Race Rewind.
Larson, McMurray surge as CGR work bears fruit
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Bristol A strong finish to the 2016 season and an equally impressive start to 2017 has placed the two-team effort of Chip Ganassi Racing squarely in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series spotlight. These are heady days for drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, crew chiefs Matt McCall and Chad Johnston, and the dozens upon dozens of support personnel surrounding the No. 1 and No. 42 teams. Not that you would know it from speaking with the principals. "No, I think that's what we expected," Johnston said of the organization's rise up the competitive ladder. Johnston's driver, Larson, is the series' points leader heading into Monday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). "I think it catches some people off guard and I think it's gotten a lot of hype, but we felt like we were pretty good last year toward the end of the year; we weren't as consistent as we wanted to be. "But performance-wise we felt like we were pretty good. We also knew we needed to continue to work hard to keep gaining on it through the offseason. I think anything less than what we started off would have been a disappointment for all of us." McCall said the resurgence is more than lip service. The results back up the attention being paid to the Ganassi organization this year. "Because you know how it is, everyone always claims they're working hard, working hard and that's the case," he said. "But until you actually have something to show for it, you really don't get to show the world that. "It's good for everyone that works here, a lot of long hours, to get a little recognition for all the work that's been put in." RELATED: Penske, Ganassi battle for early season supremacy The explanations run the gamut, from the obvious to the intricate. "I don't know what the difference ... is, but our race cars are just way faster," said Larson, who has banked one win and four runner-up finishes after seven races. "I think after we struggled so bad through this point of the season last year, ( Chad ) got really aggressive on what changes he wanted done in the race shop and with the race cars, with the bodies. As soon as he got his bodies and chassis built, we had a great test at Pocono (in April 2016), then we went to Dover, almost won that race; came to Charlotte, won the Showdown, almost won the All-Star Race. "Really since that point, we've had a lot of speed in our cars and we've just built on that and made them better and better." There's been no magic bullet, according to McMurray, who sits eighth in points and has four top-10 results this season. Instead, he said, it's a combination of things that have, in some cases, taken years to develop and implement. Better cars, better personnel, better decisions. The organization has been a contender before, but it's also had its share of expectations that failed to pan out. "It's been kind of years in the process of getting every department just a little bit better," McMurray, 40, said. "I think taking everybody's ideas from engineering, from the guys on the shop floor that have grown up racing, taking all that and combining it and it's all added up to a really good performance." McMurray has been "on both sides" of the situation -- those times when you show up at the track confident that you will contend and those times when you know there's still plenty of work to be done just to survive. "The frustrating part is that you know it's not one little piece," he said. "It's a lot of little, small things that are going to add up to getting you there. "(From) 2010 being as high as you can get to, by 2012 it was horrible. It was super frustrating to go every week and know that if you did everything right you were maybe going to run 20th. Super frustrating weekends." McMurray won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Charlotte fall race in '10. He also won four poles. Two years later, he had only three top 10s and finished outside the top 20 in points. "But right now we are back on top and it's so much fun to show up every weekend and know that even if your car doesn't drive great that you're going to run really well and hopefully have a shot to win," he said. Two Teams, Two Styles, One Goal There's a 16-year difference in ages between McMurray and Larson, and nearly as large of a gap in their approach to racing. Now in his fourth full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Larson's approach is simple: "I show up and drive," he said. McMurray, however, is a product of his past, having arrived on the scene at a time when "guys that were big into setups and how do you make your car drive better," he said. "I was raised with that mentality of kind of understanding the car and trying to make the right adjustments to it to make the car faster. Where Kyle really doesn't know anything about cars. He doesn't really give suggestions of what he thinks you need on the car to make it faster. He just searches around. A lot of times that works out well for him, so that's opened my eyes up to maybe not trying to make the car perfect but maybe just search around and try to find something on the track." Larson calls his teammate "a very underrated driver" with a ton of experience. "He's won every big race on our circuit," Larson said of McMurray. "I can go to him ... and just pick his brain and get any bits of advice I could, look at his data and compare it to mine. "I feel like we are very similar drivers and the way we use our hands and feet and how aggressive we are, so we mesh well together. I love working with Jamie; I hope he stays around for a long time and we can work together for a long time, as well, and have a lot of success together." While the drivers come from different backgrounds and developed different approaches, the crew chiefs come from similar backgrounds. Both McCall and Johnston had driving careers and served at one point as engineers for other teams. While experience behind the wheel has been helpful, understanding the methodology behind making a car go fast has been more crucial as the two made the move atop the pit box. "I think the driving part, that sort of changes week to week," McCall said. "Especially every time you change a package and the tires change. ... "The other side (of that) is the managing skills, the people skills -- there's no experience for that so that's definitely different on the crew chief side." Johnston said the "other side of the steering wheel pays a lot better but it comes with a lot more hassles, too." "The engineering side and just knowing all the nuances, the aerodynamics ... things like that probably helped me more than anything," he said. The two teams work as one, with key personnel working out of one trailer every week at the track. That promotes open dialogue, with both teams knowing what each is doing at any given time. The differences in the cars and their setups are minor, tweaked to suit each driver's individual needs. And their driving styles really aren't that different. While some folks make much over Larson's high-groove, sideways-here-I-come approach, Larson said it's certainly not by design. Changes in the aero package and the loss of downforce, he said, have actually hurt him as much as anyone. RELATED: Larson fast, atop the standings and having fun "Everybody thinks that because I grew up dirt racing that I like the car sideways and all this and that," he said. "But I don't. Stock car sideways is a way different feeling, a bad feeling, compared to Sprint cars. When you're sideways in a Sprint car, you still have grip; you're making more grip, to a certain point. Where with stock cars, you've got to worry about tire management so much and all that. "If anything, I would honestly say less downforce is bad for me. In 2014, my first year in Cup, we had the most downforce we've had since I've been in NASCAR and I ran really well that year. That's been my best season up until this year. I know last year we won a race and made the (playoffs) and all that, but consistently (2014) was our best up until this season. "Lower downforce, the racing is better but I wouldn't say it suits my driving style any better than it suits anybody else." Having been in the spotlight before, McMurray isn't fazed by the recent surge in attention paid to the Ganassi operation. He's just happy to be a part of the process. "I don't know that when you're on the inside that you view it that differently," he said. "When I think about our shop I know all the sacrifice and the work that's gone into this and sometimes you don't get rewarded for that. Sometimes you put all that time and effort in and it doesn't translate to speed. "But when you're on the inside, you know everything that's happened and why it is. I'm just thankful for it."
Chad Knaus single-handedly helps Carolina Panthers win football game
RELATED: Johnson pounds the drum at Panthers game All he does is win, win, win no matter what ... sport? Seven-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus was on hand at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday to help the Carolina Panthers beat the San Diego Chargers, 28-16. Chad Knaus gets the #SDvsCAR game started @BankofAmerica stadium! #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/O4e8Alwq74 — Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) December 11, 2016 It's truly remarkable that all the Hendrick Motorsports wiz had to do was hit this "Keep Pounding" drum during pre-game ceremonies to lead the Panthers to victory. Certainly wouldn't rule it out that Knaus, ever the strategist, gave head coach Ron Rivera a few game plan tips before kickoff, too. Either way, chalk up another W for Knaus. It was all him, and definitely not the touchdowns by Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Devin Funchess. Nope.
Chad Knaus accepts Crew Chief of the Year Award
Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 team, accepts the Crew Chief of the Year Award at the 2016 Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon.
Could Jimmie, Chad have been split up before the Chase?
Rick Hendrick speaks with the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway about the possibility of Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus being split up during the summer months when Hendrick Motorsports was struggling.
Evolution of track repave on display at Texas
RELATED: Race results " Series standings The days of a newly repaved race track requiring numerous seasons of curing, along with several years of competition on its surface before it lends itself to multiple lanes for racing, appear to be over. The action Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway was not an aberration. It's more of an evolution. Track officials replaced the aging asphalt earlier this year at the 1.5-mile facility and improved the drainage system underneath its surface. The first and second turns were significantly altered as well, with the banking changed from 24 to 20 degrees and widening that portion of the track by 20 feet. Thanks to the work that went into the repaving project, and continued efforts by track officials during the weekend to put rubber down on the racing surface with the use of specially designed equipment, Sunday’s race proved to be a competitive one. The changes were similar to those done last season at Kentucky Speedway. Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Senior Vice President Innovation and Racing Development, said much of what was learned during the Kentucky project was applied at Texas. "That was kind of the first step forward in trying to make sure the racing surface is created in a way to optimize racing as opposed to optimizing durability," Stefanyshyn told NASCAR.com. "In the past it's been … 'put down pavement that lasts a long time' … not necessarily the best for racing. "Kentucky was the first installation of really going to coarser aggregate and trying to put our best foot forward in a new repave to make the racing as best as possible. So we took that and applied that to Texas." RELATED: See the Texas repave in photos With what was learned from Kentucky's repaving project, and now Texas, officials have much more information from which they can draw and apply going forward in a continued innovative -- and collaborative -- effort; NASCAR, track officials and Goodyear all work concurrently to produce the best racing as quickly into a repave as possible. "We know that repaves can take you back a bit," Stefanyshyn said. "Hopefully we can get to a point where when we repave, we can have very good racing right from the beginning and at the same time we can get to a point that we can begin to tie the tires to that repave right from day one without having to go through some learning." As part of the process, once a repave is complete workers treat the surface with lime, which extracts the oils out of the pavement to make it less slick. The lime then is removed by cleaning with nothing more than soap and water and heavy rotary brushes. "And then there's a process of putting some rubber down and we use several things there," Stefanyshyn said. "We'll use a 'tire dragon' or 'tire monster,' (and) also use racing schools for them to put down rubber. "So there's the putting down the asphalt, then there's prepping it and cleaning it and then putting down rubber. That's kind of the process; we learned that through Kentucky, through other tracks, and brought that to bear at Texas." RELATED: Monsters? Dragons? Next-level track prep hits Texas A surface that takes on rubber allows drivers to search out additional racing grooves. "It gives drivers another place to go, another option," Stefanyshyn explained. Chad Knaus, crew chief for Sunday's winner Jimmie Johnson, said he was "very impressed with the way the race track began to take rubber; very impressed with the way NASCAR and everybody here at Texas Motor Speedway worked throughout the course of the night to get the groove widened out, and the track really got pretty racy there at the end. "I think we saw some guys on the outside be able to maintain their position or even take the lead on restarts there toward the middle portion of the race and then to the end," Knaus said. " … It was a lot of fun to be able to come out here and race with this new race track." MORE: Thumbs-up from Knaus Johnson, a seven-time series champion, said he is looking forward to returning to the track with his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. "I think the track will change a lot in the next four to six trips that we come here," he said, "and it's only going to get better." Texas, Kentucky and Watkins Glen are the three most recent facilities to undergo repaving projects. Goodyear officials did not conduct a tire test at Texas following the repave due to time constraints. Because the Texas and Kentucky projects were similar, officials elected to use the same tread compounds this past weekend at Texas. "We understand there are many items that go to create great racing," Stefanyshyn said. "It's the tire, it's the track, it's the driver, it's the rules package, it's the weather, it's the format. There are a lot of pieces." No two tracks are the same, he cautioned, so "it's not a one fits all" when it comes to repaving a track. "But there is kind of a center point that we use to … drive the whole thing and then we work from there for different, specific applications." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
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