By Doug Halberstadt
Five races remain in NASCAR’s 2011 Sprint Cup season. I’m about to make a prediction that I know will irritate many local racing fans. Here it goes: Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, former Rockfordian Chad Knaus, will not win their sixth consecutive championship this year.
You can blame it on Charlotte. Johnson and Knaus entered last Saturday night’s race with some momentum on their side following the previous week’s victory at Kansas Speedway. They were third in the series standings when the green flag dropped at Charlotte. When the race was over, they had fallen to eighth place, 35 points behind leader Carl Edwards.
Johnson’s hopes for a sixth-straight championship may have come to an end when his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet slammed into the wall with only 18 laps left in the Bank of America 500. Johnson would end up not finishing the race and was scored in 34th place. That was his worst finish of the year, and may have forced him to take a look at the chances that there won’t be another championship this year.
“We just have to go racing. That’s all there is to it,” Johnson said. “There are five races left, and right now, all we have are those five races. This definitely was not the night we wanted. This is not going to help us win a sixth championship.
“But I promise you: this team and myself, we won’t quit. We will go for every point we can from here on out, and hopefully we are still champions at the end of the year,” Johnson added.
Knaus took the lion’s share of blame for Saturday night’s debacle. “Midway through the race, I made a bad call, and we took four tires,” Knaus said. “We probably should have taken two tires there, and we just had difficulty overcoming that.
“But that happens. It’s part of racing. … The No. 17 car [of Matt Kenseth], he was in the same boat that we were,” Knaus added. “They took four tires the same time we did, and they came back and won. Obviously, if we could have had a few breaks, we could have been there with him.”
Knaus insisted it was not the result of poor luck.
“It’s not really luck,” he said. “You put yourselves in the position that you’re in and with that one pit call, that’s what blew it for us for the day; that put us behind the eight ball, and we just weren’t able to overcome it.”
Johnson and Knaus, known as the dynamic duo in NASCAR, will have to try to defy the odds and put the adversity of Charlotte behind them this week. They will be in Talladega Sunday, Oct. 23, in their quest to make up some of those 35 points that separates them from the top spot and that elusive sixth championship.
The race will be televised locally on ESPN and begins at 1 p.m.
From the Oct. 19-25, 2011, issue