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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."
Larson, Jones lead final practices at Richmond
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond FINAL PRACTICE: Full results " Top 10-lap times A fast lap of 119.074 mph put Kyle Larson's No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at the top of the leaderboard in Saturday's final practice at Richmond International Raceway. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader turned 84 laps in the 50-minute session, more than any other driver in the field. Furniture Row Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. (119.016 mph) and Erik Jones (118.702 mph) were second- and fourth-fastest, respectively. Both drivers have recorded top-five speeds in all three practices (Truex's No. 78 Toyota led the opening practice, while Jones' No. 77 Toyota topped the second session). Sandwiched between the Furniture Row wheelmen in third was Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson, whose No. 48 Chevrolet clocked in at 118.801 mph. Johnson's teammate Chase Elliott rounded out the top five with a fast lap of 118.452 mph in his No. 24 Chevrolet. After battling a car issue in Saturday's opening session and coming up 31st on the leaderboard, Kurt Busch nabbed the sixth-fastest speed in the field in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford during final practice. The XFINITY Series is on track at Richmond next for the ToyotaCare 250 race (1 p.m. ET, FS1). PRACTICE 2: Full results " Top 10-lap times Earlier in the day, Erik Jones wheeled his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota at 120.714 mph, nabbing the top spot on the speed charts during Saturday morning's opening practice at Richmond International Raceway. The Monster Energy Series rookie, who topped the leaderboard early in the 55-minute session, was second-fastest in Friday's lone practice to his teammate Martin Truex Jr. Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick was second on the leaderboard Saturday, his No. 4 Ford clocking a fast lap of 120.048 mph. Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard was third-fastest (120.005 mph) in his No. 27 Chevrolet, while JTG Daugherty Racing's Chris Buescher ranked fourth in the field (119.973 mph from his No. 37 Chevrolet). Friday's practice leader Truex Jr. completed the top five with a 119.941-mph lap in his No. 78 Toyota. Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth was 11th-fastest in the field in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who announced his retirement from full-time racing after 2017 on Tuesday, was 10th on the leaderboard. In the middle of the 55-minute session, Kurt Busch radioed his team that he thought his No. 41 Ford was "on seven cylinders" and brought the car into the garage for examination. He returned to the track a little over 20 minutes later and told his team that he thought they "fixed it, whatever it was," ending the session 31st on the leaderboard. The following teams were held for the first 15 minutes of Saturday's opening session due to infractions: No. 1 of Jamie McMurray (failing LIS twice), No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (failing LIS second time through) and No. 21 of Ryan Blaney (failing template twice). &lt;/p&gt;
Actor Morris Chestnut on Austin Dillon, how NASCAR, Hollywood relate
Actor and star of FOX's police crime drama "Rosewood" Morris Chestnut noticed that the cast seemed nervous while filming a portion of the Season 2 finale in March. For good reason, too. "There was a huge explosion and the explosion was so big that everyone on the set was nervous because it was on the second level of this parking structure," Chestnut recalled Monday to NASCAR.com via telephone. "And it was such a big explosion that everyone thought the second level was going to drop down to the first." But one guest star -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon -- seemed quite unnerved by the exploding car behind him, Chestnut noticed. It seemed his day job lent a hand to dealing with crashes, fires and loud noises on the set of a television show. "He was actually in the scene when this happened," Chestnut said of Dillon. "And to see his reaction -- he was just like a pro, didn't flinch. It was great, he did a great job." In the "Rosewood" season finale, Dillon portrays Wayne Cirito, a character that is associated with a crime gang that the show's protagonist Dr. Beaumont Rosewood (played by Chestnut) is trying to interrogate. As for Dillon's acting skills? Chestnut was impressed by the 27-year-old driver's versatility on-screen. "That's one thing that's great about Austin," Chestnut said. "It was a very tough scene because he goes from this hard, tough-as-nails guy, to relating to (character Captain Ira) Hornstock and talking about things he may not have been comfortable (talking about)." But as Chestnut learned after talking with Dillon off-screen, race car drivers have to be tough in a variety of facets in their own jobs -- as well as focused, sharp and able-bodied. It's a familiar area for the 48-year-old actor, as he just released a health and fitness book this month entitled "The Cut: Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 10 Days and Sculpt Your Best Body." "It was great to talk to him about some of the insight toward NASCAR," Chestnut said. "I didn't know some of the things that he goes through as (a driver), that they go through in the cars and everything, so it was great to talk to him about that. "…One thing when I was talking to Austin is the endurance factor. Not only do you have to have a healthy body, but you have to have a healthy and sharp mind because a one-second lapse can not only cost you the race, but you can get into some very bad, brutal accidents. So, health and fitness is a huge part of being sharp and being ready when you're on the track. "These guys are athletes, these drivers are athletes," Chestnut continued. "I didn't realize that. They're not just sitting in the car Sunday driving like I do on the freeway. (They're hitting) 200 mph, going around these tracks and turns … you have to be in tip-top shape and (have) a razor-sharp mind." His conversations with Dillon on set gave Chestnut, who has never attended a NASCAR race, a greater appreciation for the sport of racing. "To be honest, I didn't get (NASCAR)," said Chestnut, who also plans to attend Dillon's 3-on-3 charity basketball tournament this year. "I didn't really get it. But he was breaking everything down to me about the whole entire experience. It's not just about the race -- it's even before the race, everyone coming, meeting the drivers, being right on the track. He was breaking so many little intricate things down to me just about the sport in general to where it really, really piqued my interest. So I'm looking forward to getting out to (a race) … (There were) so many interesting things that he was talking to me about, I was like, 'Man, I have to see one of these.' " The connections between NASCAR and Hollywood have grown deeper in recent years, as more drivers have briefly traded their fire suits and race cars for Hollywood scripts and bright lights for cameo appearances in movies and television shows. Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Carl Edwards notably nabbed cameo roles in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh-directed, racing-themed film "Logan Lucky;" which stars Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Riley Keough among others. Likewise, several movie and television stars have flocked to the often-unfamiliar race tracks, particularly the Southern California-based Auto Club Speedway and Wine Country's Sonoma Raceway. RELATED: NASCAR meets Hollywood in 'Logan Lucky' movie While he is just starting to learn more about NASCAR, Chestnut already sees parallels between NASCAR and Hollywood, primarily the storytelling aspect of both. "I think they're both very entertaining," Chestnut said. "Like I said, I didn't understand the sport … but once he told me the intricacies of the storylines that are involved and how intimate the fans can be with the drivers, it's a whole other level of entertainment. Even the story within the story, the story within the races with some of the drivers and what happens before they even come to the race. "There's just so many interesting things, I think it's just a natural relationship the two can have. Hollywood has stories -- we tell stories with our show every week. The more you know about our show, the more interested you may be. The more I know about NASCAR drivers, the more interested I am in the sport. It's very similar. They're both very strong forms of entertainment." Catch Dillon and Chestnut on the season finale of "Rosewood" on Friday, April 28 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Kenseth nabs first pole of season at Richmond
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RELATED: Full results RICHMOND, Va. – Matt Kenseth won't have to come from the middle of nowhere, as he did Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he started 22nd, charged toward the front in the closing laps and finished fourth. Quite the contrary. In Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (on FOX at 2 p.m. ET) at Richmond International Raceway, Kenseth will lead the field to the green flag in the ninth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season after winning the pole during Friday's knockout qualifying session. Kenseth posted a lap at 121.076 mph (22.300 seconds) to edge Ryan Blaney (120.854 mph) for the top starting spot by .041 seconds. The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota claimed his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his second at Richmond and the 19th of his career. Kenseth was fast enough to make the cut for the first two rounds despite running a single lap in each, and the tire conservation paid off in the money round. "We had enough speed in our Circle K Toyota Camry that we only had to do one lap each of the first two rounds to get us into the third round, and we improved a little bit the second lap (in the final round). It was a good qualifying effort for us. Feels good to be on the pole. Kenseth is 20th in points after bottom-five finishes at Daytona, Phoenix and Fontana, and qualifying rainouts hurt him at Bristol and Martinsville, where he had to start mid-pack on owner points. "This year has not been a good year for us, obviously, so far," Kenseth said. "We finished strong at Bristol, but we didn't get to qualify because of the rain, and that put us in the middle of the pack – there and Martinsville. "We haven't been getting any stage points. We're buried in the points back there and we finally got a decent finish last week, so hopefully this week we can start up front, stay up front and hopefully collect some of the stage points. But most importantly we're in the mix for a win at the end of the day." Martin Truex Jr. (120.681 mph) will start third, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (120.471 mph) and Joey Logano (120.380 mph). It was the third second-place qualifying effort of the season for Blaney, who also put the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford on the front row at Phoenix and Texas. "We weren't great the first round but kept getting steps better each round, which we've done a really good job of this year," Blaney said. "I thought that's where we struggled a lot last year. We didn't improve last year, we would go backwards. This year we're improving round-to-round. "It's just communication and knowing what we need to change in our car. That's something to be proud of. That's a lot of second starts now. I really want to race the Clash at Daytona (the season-opening exhibition race primarily for pole winners). That's my biggest thing right now. It's upsetting me that we can't get a pole. I think our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion is good—we'll find out in race trim." WATCH: Dillon makes ... interesting ... qualifying lap Both Kenseth and Blaney saved their fastest laps for the final round. The same couldn't be said of Logano, who ran the fastest lap of the afternoon (121.468 mph) in the second round but couldn't sustain his speed in the third. "We just lost a little bit there the last run," said Logano who tied Kevin Harvick for the fastest lap in the opening round at 120.870 mph. "We got loose into (Turns) 3 and 4, missed it the first lap and did the same exact thing the second lap. "It's so frustrating when you win the first two rounds and the one that pays the money, you're not there. That's always frustrating. I guess we have decent speed in our car… it is just frustrating. I don't know what else to say. It just sucks." &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dale Jr. opens up at Richmond after retirement announcement
RELATED: Dale Jr. announces retirement " Reactions " Relive every Dale Jr. win RICHMOND, Va. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he had some concerns about how the bombshell news he dropped on the NASCAR world this week would be received, worried that it would be upsetting, met with a mix of emotions. He seemed relieved by the generally positive feedback and strong outpouring of support after making his decision to retire from full-time driving at season's end. With that part behind him, Earnhardt turns his attention to getting "back to my routine" this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, site of Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM Radio) for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. But his at-track habits might take on a more freewheeling approach, with little to lose in the 28 points-paying races left in his career. "The team, the guys, they all and myself we would love to win some races," Earnhardt said Friday after opening practice at the .75-mile track, where he is a three-time premier-series winner. "I'm going to say 'a race,' but 'some races' would be great going out in your last season to get some victories. We just want to go to Victory Lane one more time, just to get that experience one more time would be awesome for me and I think the guys would love it, for sure. "But, I certainly did feel a lot more relaxed now. I don't know whether it's because I finally got to tell everybody and let everybody know what we are doing, get that over with, but I certainly felt real relaxed today in the garage during practice. I felt like there was less pressure from somewhere and a large amount, a lot different." Earnhardt, 42, announced Tuesday that 2017 would be his final year driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Sunday's race will mark the unofficial start of his farewell tour, which is sure to come with a heaping helping of tributes and parting gifts. Earnhardt sits 24th in the series standings with just one top-five finish in the eight races so far this year, leaving him in need of a victory or momentous rally in the points to assure a playoff berth. Reaching the postseason by either method might require some risk-taking, something Earnhardt said is a ripe possibility. Earnhardt related the tale of his former crew chief Steve Letarte, now an analyst with NBC Sports' broadcast team. Letarte had announced before the 2014 season that he would mount one final campaign with the No. 88 group before making the transition to the television booth the following year. With his plans in place and a firm sense of direction, Letarte and Earnhardt picked their spots for well-calculated gambles and combined for their most successful year together -- four victories, including the driver's second Daytona 500 win, his first grandfather clock trophy from Martinsville Speedway and a season sweep of both Pocono Raceway events. "He called that whole season completely different," Earnhardt said. "He was more aggressive and I think it was because he had the freedom to be that way. He was like, 'What if it doesn't work?' And a lot of times it ended up working out. We won both of those Pocono races on pit calls that he made. We didn't just outrun everybody. There are things he did in the middle of the race that we might not have done had he not had his mind made up what he was doing and 'Hey, this is my last hurrah, we are going to go for it' kind of attitude. "I noticed that whole year he was a much easier going, approachable. I mean he's pretty damn likable, but he was much more likable and easier to be around. Everything rolled off his back, we didn't get frustrated as easily and I am anticipating that being similar for me." Also in the no-pressure department: The search for Earnhardt's replacement in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Tuesday's announcement included a note that Hendrick Motorsports would reach that decision at a later date. XFINITY Series rookie William Byron, a top Hendrick prospect, demurred earlier Friday when asked about the organization's soon-approaching driver vacancy, saying only that he was eager to get his chance to race in NASCAR's top division. For Earnhardt, he remains an interested party invested in the team's success, now and after his departure. He said he wouldn't demand to be included in the discussions to find his successor, but said he'd value the opportunity to offer his input. "I can't read their minds, but I'm sure they all have a direction that they want to go and they have ideas," Earnhardt said of Hendrick Motorsports' management team. "There are just things about the company that I'm not quite as in touch with that they are that will help them make that decision. They probably have everybody in the world telling them what they ought to do and they don't need me, but if they ask for it I'm certainly wanting to be involved in that. "I want the team to have more success. I want it to be … I said this every offseason: Every offseason is a chance to be better than you were the year before. It's an opportunity to make those personnel changes and those hard decisions. It's a chance to do it, the things you can't do in the middle of the river, in the middle of the season."
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.
Cain: Johnson's Texas win, attitude remind us why he's a true champion
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Bristol All these seasons (16), all these Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win trophies (81) and all those Hall of Fame-ready championships (seven) later, the perpetually good-natured Jimmie Johnson can still smile when people wonder if his success train has derailed. Even a bit. His victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway – now giving him a winner's cowboy hat for every day of the week -- simultaneously assured his fans all is well with an automatic playoff bid and left the others to mutter, "Here we go again." Yep. Here we go again and what a historical ride this could be. To be fair, this has been the statistically slowest start to a season in his career. Even after his win Sunday he's ranked a surprisingly low 11th – up three spots from last week. After the season-opening six races leading into Texas produced "Johnson subpar" results, there was plenty of speculation that the multi-time and reigning champion No. 48 team might have finally recessed a bit. That the group might have become "human" – you know, found itself mired in a … "slump." If you can really consider six races without a trophy, a slump, for Pete's sake. RELATED: Johnson rallies, corrals Texas win At no point during the early season did Johnson or his fearless team leader, crew chief Chad Knaus, appear worried, however. They met all their media requirements – with a smile. And even after a qualifying gaffe just this Friday at Texas, there was no panic. It was sort of similar to the 2016 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when NASCAR officials discovered a last minute, technical concern on the car. The team had to push the Chevrolet off the starting grid, go through inspection again and Johnson lined up last for the season-finale, championship-determining green flag. Again, no panic on the team. Johnson methodically worked his way back toward the front at Miami, took the lead with three laps of extra time remaining and drove off to earn his record-tying seventh Cup title – a championship tally many believe will never happen again in the sport. Yet, it's a number Johnson may well add to. It was brilliant work -- and even more dramatic considering the obstacles the team had to overcome. But it was of little surprise to those that know this group best. "I think there's a little bit of vintage 48 in that," Knaus conceded Sunday at Texas. "It seems as though we have in times of turmoil and distress managed to get some pretty solid finishes with the 48 car, and I think that's a true testament to Jimmie and his ability to not waver. "He doesn't get spooked. He doesn't get too crazy. He keeps his calm. He's very calm in nature as we all know. So him doing that and allowing us to work on the race car the way that we need to without panic setting in, I think there's definitely an element to that. We love a challenge." And the team has had its share in the early portion of this season. That's why being Jimmie Johnson is such a bonus – a perpetually under-appreciated advantage. The El Cajon, California, native remains calm, cool and collected no matter the size of the challenge. And it's actually a good lesson for all of us who are less inclined to breathe and set-in. Even after requiring three bags of IV fluid following a steamy race and malfunction with Johnson's in-car drinking system at Texas on Sunday, he still fulfilled a winner's obligation for a press conference. RELATED: Johnson taken to infield care center after Texas win After hearing about how "off" Johnson felt in Victory Lane, some in the media center were quite sure he would understandably beg off. He had done all the television and radio interviews while in Victory Lane, after all. But no, nearly two hours after the race, Johnson came in and answered all the interview questions anyone had. All class. My question was the same to Knaus and later to Johnson. What's the secret in keeping so cool under so much pressure, to achieving ultimate excellence when odds are toughest? "There certainly is a mindset that works for everyone, and for me, much more on the reserved side has always paid off for me," Johnson said. "It may be the environment. At Homestead, kind of reacting to things and keeping me under control was good. And today was good. "I feel like at times when I start up front or we've had a dominant weekend, you're kind of expected to perform, and you can try too hard easily in this sport. I don't know exactly, but maybe there is something, and kind of just being knocked down a notch, like 'OK, this is going to be a working man's day,' we're going to have to fight through a lot, stay calm, identify with 100 percent, because again, it's very easy to step over that line and bust your butt, from a pit call being too aggressive, too aggressive on pit lane in the car, passing other cars like we did today. "I had to be so patient, and in the end, the patience kind of paid off for me." It did. Again. And now, somewhere on a beach in Mexico, Johnson is vacationing with his family during NASCAR's Easter off-week. He joked Sunday that he planned to indulge in Mexican food, get a tan (or sunburn, he worried) and most likely, enjoy a margarita. Or two. So here's a toast to you Jimmie. Congrats on the way you keep bringing it, racing like you're trying to earn your first win. All while reminding everyone why you are such a true champion. </p>
RELATED: Read more Inside Groove Well, it looks like everything's back to normal. -- Jimmie Johnson's winning races again Kyle Larson is finishing second again and -- Ryan Blaney is running up front Dale Jr. is scoring top 5-finishes Jimmie Johnson's beard is looking great on TV . After going six whole weeks without a win, I thought Jimmie Johnson -- and his team were in trouble was done winning for a little while couldn't win because he was very thirsty was content with seven championships and 80 wins had a very luscious beard . Boy, was I -- wrong right a naysayer a true fan printing out a picture of bearded Jimmie just now or what?! As much as Jimmie Johnson rose to the occasion, -- Ryan Blaney Kevin Harvick Joey Logano Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Larson Corey Lajoie dehydration gave him a run for his money Sunday. What a -- powerful dominant disappointing typical beard-less performance! For a second, I thought this would finally be the week that -- The Wood Brothers pulled it off Kyle Larson didn't finish second again BK Racing would have a clean race Joe Gibbs Racing would turn things around putting Kasey Kahne on my fantasy team was a good idea . The track reconfiguration at Texas Motor Speedway made the track very -- wide slick reconfigured fun to watch fresh and new for 2017, like Jimmie Johnson's beard . I guess what they say is true: everything's -- bigger repaved warm found a cowboy fast thirsty a cactus located either in or not in Texas! What I really don't understand is why -- so many people millennials reporters other drivers I barbers -- question doubt laud cheer for idolize would ever shave the beard of Jimmie Johnson and his team's -- incredible legendary so-called stupid, sexy ability. I think the true secret to the No. 48 team's success is -- Chad Knaus Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet stage racing a thirst for victory Jimmie Johnson's athleticism the support of No. 48 fans bribing race officials with Lowe's gift cards Jimmie's beard with that perfect touch of gray . Now it's time for an off-week -- no racing next Sunday. As -- a NASCAR fan a NASCAR driver someone who's really into Easter I admire the details of Jimmie Johnson's full beard , this is -- great news terrible news something I didn't even notice just another weekend disappointing but understandable a bummer not a bummer .
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.
Secret weapon? Grubb's JGR past could help Hendrick
MORE: Buy tickets for Homestead-Miami Championship Weekend Darian Grubb, who spent the past four years as a crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing , says his time there could be beneficial as Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson attempts to win a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup Series title this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "I hope so," said Grubb, now the vehicle production manager at HMS. "If nothing else, it helps me to understand a little bit more about how their mentality was and how they approached races and what they did to prepare. Some of the strategies and the choices you would make going into a championship race, I know what they had done in the past." Johnson is the lone HMS representative in this year's Championship 4 and is going into battle against a pair of JGR drivers in defending series champion Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards , as well as Team Penske representative Joey Logano . "The sport changes so much day to day, year to year; I don't know that it's a huge advantage but hopefully it's something I can help Jimmie and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) a little bit with," Grubb told NASCAR.com on Tuesday. "Just 'Here's what their old mindset was and how they would approach things in the past.' Just so they can think about it." Since the beginning of 2016, chassis production and body hanging programs have been under Grubb's watch at HMS. He also provides engineering consultation and support to all four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams fielded by the organization. He understands the race-day pressure, having weathered the storm from atop the pit box. Grubb was the lead engineer for the 48 of Johnson and the 24 of then-driver Jeff Gordon in 2006 when he was pressed into service after Knaus received a four-race suspension for violations before the Daytona 500 . Grubb helped guide Johnson to the Daytona 500 win as well as a win three weeks later in Las Vegas. Johnson went on to capture the first of five consecutive championships that season. RELATED: Why Johnson will win the 2016 championship He moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, and two years later Grubb was a part of one of the biggest comebacks in series history as driver Tony Stewart won five of 10 Chase races, including the season-ending event at Homestead. Stewart beat Edwards to win his third series crown. In an unusual turn of events, Grubb was released by SHR following the '11 season, a move that had been determined before the start of the 10-race playoff. During his four-year tenure at JGR, Grubb led Denny Hamlin to seven victories; paired with Edwards last year, the No. 19 team won twice and finished fifth in the overall standings. Monday evening, Grubb got the chance to relive the 2011 championship as NBCSN replayed the race and Stewart chimed in via Twitter throughout the event. "Watching it on TV, it all came back to me," Grubb said. "I felt like I was living in the moment again. There was just so much drama that happened. "It was so much fun to be there, honestly. We had nothing to lose; we could not finish worse than second no matter what happened. And we knew if we won, there was no way that Carl could win the championship regardless of leading the most laps and all those other things. We just had to win and that was our mindset. "We went to the back I think three times. Had some bad pit stops and all kinds of damage to the car that we overcame -- then the rain two times. It was just fun. We could smile and laugh about it the whole weekend and just never get really stressed out. That's what made it so much more enjoyable when it was all done." At one point Monday evening, Grubb tweeted that he hoped Johnson was watching the replay "to get fired up." "Because I got so fired up watching that to go to Homestead now," he said. "That track is so awesome; to be able to run so many different lines and three- and four-wide passes. Just knowing what Jimmie is capable of, I think it's going to be hard for anybody to count him out. We just have to make sure we don't do anything to take ourselves out and let Jimmie go out there and earn it." Can Johnson win No. 7 at Homestead, one of four tracks where he has yet to visit Victory Lane? The No. 48 entry will be one that's been run elsewhere with good results. "It's been back to the wind tunnel and had some more love applied to it," Grubb said. "We're hoping it goes out there and unloads fast. "We've got Jimmie Johnson so that'll put us a leg up on anybody at any given time." The season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 is scheduled for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN, SiriusXN NASCAR). MORE: Johnson has never had to win at Miami