Jimmie Johnson took the white flag in last year’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway trailing Martin Truex Jr. for the lead. Unfortunately, his crew chief Chad Knaus wishes he had better verbal communication with his former driver at the time.
See, racers are intense competitors. They want to win, no matter the circumstances. But, the emotion of wanting so badly to end a long winless drought and the competitive nature of the team said “go for it.”
Johnson, didn’t need to “go for it” last year. He was safely into the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at that point. He had a double digit lead on the bubble circling the final lap on the ROVAL during the final race of the opening round. All he had to do was play it safe, bring his No. 48 Chevrolet home runner-up and live to fight another day.
Little did they know then the ramifications of Johnson’s move to push too hard in the final corners on the final lap would cause.
Johnson and Knaus aren’t together anymore. Johnson, still hasn’t won while Knaus’ new driver William Byron is in the playoffs and Johnson for the first time of his NASCAR career not.
Both would do the exact same situation differently now.
Knaus, wishes he told Johnson not to go for the win in that moment last year and instead let him know the points situation. Johnson, wishes he was smarter and didn’t push to reach victory lane.
Johnson, was narrowly eliminated that day from the playoffs as he and Truex Jr. crashed allowing others to pass him. Instead of coming home second, he finished eighth. That’s the last time Johnson was in a playoff battle.
He’d struggle the rest of 2018 which led to big changes for his team. Hendrick Motorsports split Johnson and Knaus up. They had won 83 races and seven championships together. Maybe it was time for a new voice for both.
Knaus and William Byron immediately hit it off. Byron, won the pole for the season opening Daytona 500. Byron, heads to Charlotte this weekend holding the 12th and final spot that advances to the second round. He will start Sunday’s race from the pole.
Johnson, had a rough go of it. He started off 2019 with four finishes of 17th or worse in the first six races. He had a spell leading into the playoffs with finishes of 30th, 30th, 15th, 19th, 34th, 19th, 16th and 35th respectively.
After only 21 races, he would get another new crew chief in Cliff Daniels. Unfortunately, it would take a few races before Daniels was able to put his touches on Johnson’s car. The first few races that Daniels took over, Johnson’s cars were already setup from Kevin Meendering.
That has cost Johnson a playoff berth. Despite that, he’s not going away.
Out of the first two races of the playoffs, Johnson is leading the HMS charge. The problem is, he’s their only driver not in the playoffs.
Johnson, was quickest in practice and Friday and qualified fourth for Sunday’s race. He now has five straight top 10 starting spots and seven in the last eight races.
The speed is starting to come around. Now, he has a chance at redemption on Sunday and can help Byron and Alex Bowman advance to the next round too by stealing points and potentially a race win from others.