The Frontstretch: Unfair Advantage For The No. 48? Johnson Says Sour Grapes; Others, Not So Sure by Thomas Bowles -- Monday September 28, 2009

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Unfair Advantage For The No. 48? Johnson Says Sour Grapes; Others, Not So Sure

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday September 28, 2009


To say Jimmie Johnson was in a league of his own Sunday was putting it mildly. Leading the final 224 laps, the outcome of the race was never in doubt for most of Dover’s second half, the No. 48 running as much as two miles an hour faster than the rest of the field. It was a setup that defined dominance in this sport.

But it was also one they had a little extra time to perfect. Part of a two-day tire test on August 4th and 5th, the No. 48 was one of eight teams to get a “grip” on the Goodyear tires that were eventually selected for the Fall.

“They had different guys on different schedules, some guys working on compounds and some guys working on construction. I did all the construction stuff,” Johnson said in post-race, referring to the part of the process that’s focused more on how cars will handle around the concrete oval. “I think there were one or two runs we were able to run on the tire that they had hoped [to bring].”

Johnson, Montoya, and even Goodyear itself claimed the compound they eventually selected was significantly different from what was tested. Yet after a frustrating day in which exceptionally loose race cars made passing a near-impossibility, several drivers spoke out against what they felt was an unfair advantage.

“Look at the guys that didn’t tire test,” said Greg Biffle, who went from a winning car last year to a disappointing 13th-place finish this Fall. “We ran terrible. It was a completely different tire, it had us off our game right when we unloaded off the truck. We got going there toward the end, but not like the guys that tested.”

“That’s the whole deal. We had a decent car, but we’re not going to beat guys that came here and tested.”

Biffle’s comments were similar to those echoed Friday, when both he and Denny Hamlin went off about a Chaser being allowed extra track time. Yet while Johnson admitted an edge, he wrote off any such talk as sour grapes from guys who just never were able to get their cars to compete.

“I saw some comments from Montoya saying [tire testing] is not beneficial,” he said. “To be honest with you, it does go ahead and give you a data set, and the driver being in the car helps.”

Early in the weekend, Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t want to hear any talk about an advantage from tire testing. But looking at how those who tested ran on Sunday, there might be something to it.

“[But] Nobody spent a lot of time on the tire we actually came back with, so at the end of the day we’re just doing what we’re supposed to do.”

For Goodyear’s part, a source stressed the need for Johnson’s expertise at this track in developing a tire – after all, he’s won at Dover four times – combined with the fact that again, this compound wasn’t exactly the same as the one from August 4th. How different was anybody’s guess, but the end result was a strange dichotomy of sorts. On the one hand, Goodyear showed the durability needed to last, with Mark Martin and others commending them for tire failures that could be counted on one hand. Instead, it was the handling that was the issue for most teams, who found it difficult if not impossible to compete in conditions that resembled ice skating on wheels.

“The tire was so loose that you had to overcompensate so much with the chassis,” said Hamlin after finishing 22nd, one of several drivers who threw everything but the kitchen sink at their cars only to never see them tighten up. “It just didn’t make for good racing, at least from my standpoint.”

Whether you were in his corner depended on whether you were a fan of single-file, follow-the-leader racing. But as you might expect, all the snoozing of the fans in the stands didn’t exactly bother the crew chief of the team doing the leading.

“The tire Goodyear brought, it was fantastic,” he said succinctly, pointing the success of the No. 48 to Hendrick’s typical M.O. – teamwork. “I think as a group our whole organization gets smarter and learns faster.”

“I think especially in today’s day and age when there is no testing, I think that benefits us.”

Yet there was an extra test for the geniuses to get in a little extra credit. And with handling defined as the central issue, that makes the finishes of the other teams at the test (a mixed bag – see table below) somewhat irrelevant. After all, it was Johnson who was assigned the job of figuring out that handling more than others. And even if the compound comes back a little different, doesn’t that experience give them a leg up?

August Tire Testers – Dover
Driver Start Finish
Jimmie Johnson 1 1
Juan Pablo Montoya 2 4
A.J. Allmendinger 19 7
Marcos Ambrose 27 14
Bobby Labonte 41 23
David Ragan 21 24
David Stremme 17 29
Kyle Busch 15 31

I’ll leave that a rhetorical question. But know this much: whatever you think – even if you’re his closest competition – Jimmie Johnson could give a rat’s, well, you know.

“If it’s upsetting guys and they’re pissed, so be it,” he said. “I’m glad they’re worried about other things and not their race car. Nobody heard me complain about Indy and not being able to tire test there and it definitely hurt us in qualifying.”

“But we just kept our heads down, moved forward, made the car right and won the race.”

An admirable performance, to be sure; but looking at the big picture, that Indianapolis race had little to no meaning towards this pivotal moment in the Chase. It’s a title race Johnson has dominated in the past and now, with this victory, is in perfect position to take the lead on winning a fourth time. Later on, in his press conference Sunday he was asked about how seizing this type of momentum now changes the game for everybody else.

“As far as sending a message, I hope it does,” he said. “I’m excited to see we’ve got some of the other Chase contenders [behind us]. Like I said earlier, I hope people are worried, I hope people are talking about the fact that we tire tested and it’s wrong. All these people can get wound up about stuff that really doesn’t matter. And we’ll keep our heads down, we’ll keep our blinders on, and we’ll go to work.”

Work Johnson has these last two races, turning a summer slump into a blossoming Fall that already has he and teammate Mark Martin separated from the rest of the field. Suddenly, a Chase field of 12 is in grave danger of being reduced to 2 or 3 should Johnson back up last year’s run at Kansas – where he’s the defending champ.

“It may not be exciting for the fans and everybody else,” he said. “But the bigger gap we can put between us and those guys and single out just a car or two to really have to worry about, the easier my job is, and that’s what I hope we can keep doing.”

Moving forward, it’s impossible to quantify exactly how much of an advantage there was here (if any). Here’s what we know:

  • Jimmie Johnson tire tested.
  • Jimmie Johnson led 271 of 400 laps.
  • Jimmie Johnson won the race and now has a 55-point advantage over everyone else in the Chase except teammate Mark Martin.

One final note in closing; coming off the race’s final two caution flags, Johnson stayed out on old tires while others, including Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and other top contenders pitted for fresh rubber. But ability of those speeds to keep from falling off dramatically never put Johnson’s win in doubt.

“I didn’t think that those guys would be able to work their way back up through the field,” Knaus explained in making the pit call that sealed the win. “I didn’t think those guys were going to be able to get through the traffic and get up there to us.”

The question is whether the crew chief knew those facts from the second he walked in the door on Friday. But even if he did, it’s too late to change it now.

Fair or unfair, the competition needs to dig deep, focus, and work on their race cars. Because when you go inside the minds of several teams, their chance to even catch the No. 48 for number four is already all but over.

Writer Bryan Davis Keith contributed to this story.

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The Turnip
09/28/2009 07:28 AM

Quote: “Whether you were in his corner depended on whether you were a fan of single-file, follow-the-leader racing. But as you might expect, all the snoozing of the fans in the stands didn’t exactly bother the crew chief of the team doing the leading.”


Nuff said about the current state of “Stock Car Racing”?

And of course the beloved POS?

09/28/2009 08:23 AM

Dirvers are selected for tire testing all the time and it’s usually different drivers from different teams and manufacturers. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say it’s unfair. Didn’t seem to help Kyle Busch.

I’m not a big Jimmie Johnson fan, but I’m glad he’s not minding anyone’s moaning about it.

Carl D.
09/28/2009 08:40 AM

Whether Johnson’s testing was a specific advantage or not, this is one long-time Nascar fan who is tired of seeing the superfunded teams at HMS constantly make a mockery of the sport. I understand that’s how the game is played these days. It’s all about money, and HMS spends the most and it buys them the championship year after year. Still, I’m just about at the end of caring about this sport.

This sport has gone from the Haves and the Have-nots to the Have-It-Alls and the Begging-For-Crumbs. One thing Nascar did which was supposed to help the smaller teams compete was to ban testing at tracks where Nascar races are held. I guess we can all see what that really means… if you’re a 4-time winner on a track, your “expertise” is needed for tire testing.

I don’t know whether to commend guys like Robby Gordon for their perserverance, or to call them stupid for pissing into the wind year after year.

09/28/2009 09:09 AM

Kyle tested and look at where he ended up. Biffle and Hamlin are such cry babies. The tire tested wasn’t even what they brought so where was this advantage? Tire test or no tire test Johnson STILL would have dominated.

09/28/2009 10:29 AM

The way I see it, the tire testing must have hurt the 48. He lead 298 laps in the spring before the test and only 271 laps after the test. His driver rating dropped from 150 to 149.2. It is ludicrous to say he won because of the test after the way he dominated in the spring before the test.

09/28/2009 11:57 AM

There is no excuse for Goodyear being stupid enough to alter the outcome of races with their tire tests . Goodyear needs to pony up the money to put together its own test team using current cars and retired drivers . Thats the way it was always done in the past .
If only Johnson and his bunch were as great as they want everyone to believe !! I love the speech Knaus makes over the radio on the place laps . Who is that speech for i wonder ? He isn’t telling the driver or crew anything they don’t already know . I’d say its just the giant Knaus ego at work . I don’t know of any fans who are impressed .

09/28/2009 12:07 PM

How sour are those grapes? There have been 14 tire tests this season at 9 different tracks. Johnson is the only participant to win the race after the tire test-and he has four previous wins at Dover, so it’s not like he didn’t know how to get around the place. The numbers just don’t support the griping.

09/28/2009 12:10 PM

This dominance of the 48 car is hurting Nascar in my opinion. fans want to see different drivers win. These cars are supposed to be equal, I don’t understand how the 48 car can be so strong every week at every track. I don’t think Jimmie is that much better of a driver than the rest, it just can’t be the reason. somewhere they have found an advantage, and with Knaus’s history, I’m not so sure its a legitimate advantage. Either way, I don’t watch much anymore because of the predictability of these races. It’s amazing to me how this 48 team never has equipment failure, they have a ton of luck on their side as well as skill.

09/28/2009 12:22 PM

I agree with Mark, leave the testing to drivers not cuerrently racing and having no conections to current teams. This is the only FAIR way to do a test, period. If anything, give the advantage to the backmarker teams, they need the info more than the top money teams.

09/28/2009 05:44 PM

It isn’t just the 48 car dominating. It’s the whole Hendricks-Stewart combo dominating. Fans of other drivers (including me) know our drivers have no chance of winning so why bother to watch. And you wonder why the liquor companies have bailed already along with a ton of other sponsors. Why bother sponsoring a car when your car will not be seen on tv. No bang for your bucks here. With a faltering economy there will be some economic impact felt, but the downward spiraling of tv ratings and attendence figures tells the real story. It’s akin to the lack of revenue sharing in baseball. The teams with the biggest payrolls dominate. nas$car is in trouble. It doesn’t have the storied history of baseball to fall back on. If it doesn’t make some changes, it will lose even more fans.

09/28/2009 09:38 PM

“[But] Nobody spent a lot of time on the tire we actually came back with”. That sounds to me like Goodyear brought a tire they did test on. With this POS COT it shouldn’t take a lot of data to gain an advantage.
“I saw some comments from Montoya saying [tire testing] is not beneficial,” he said. “To be honest with you, it does go ahead and give you a data set, and the driver being in the car helps.” Hmmm?
“All these people can get wound up about stuff that really doesn’t matter. And we’ll keep our heads down, we’ll keep our blinders on, and we’ll go to work.” ‘Cause NA$CAR will give us all we need.
Knaus does not have mid season slumps only poor results from a 26 “race” test session.
And as far as Busch goes, he was probably to busy trying to Banzai pass everyone at the test to gather much data.


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