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“Slow down! Slow way down! You’ll never make it unless you slow down!”
I really thought I had entered the twilight zone. What crew chief in his right mind would possibly be telling his driver that he’d better pull back or he’d never win?
“You’ve got 20 seconds on the No. 07. You’ve got to slow down!”
Well, that wasn’t quite true; there were only 10 seconds between the front-running car and second place. Still, Chad Knaus’s words had plenty of wisdom to back them up. Jimmie Johnson had not stopped for gas, and according to calculations, his No. 48 Lowe’s machine was running on nothing more than fumes. Knaus stood on top of the pit box screaming at his driver to please lay off the gas pedal; otherwise, his chances for a win – and the momentum that comes with it – would fall victim to the tragedy of an empty fuel tank.
The move was risky, but the ploy worked. By slowing the pace, Johnson managed to maintain his lead, take the checkered flag, and even do a burnout. Granted, the Polish victory lap was less than stellar, as he had to accept a little bit of a push from a wrecker to reach victory lane; but clearly, it was worth the wait.
This left me deep in thought. Somehow, despite everything appearing to the contrary, Johnson won. Yep, he underachieved; with the race on the line, he did just enough to get by. Johnson moved up by backing it down, making sure not to be the fastest. Great job, Jimmie! Here’s the trophy, money and fame for going slow. Congratulations.
Now, I know that the outcome of Saturday’s Phoenix race was unusual. But just suppose that what we witnessed was the norm. What would our racing world be like if striving for mediocrity became the motto in the garage?
“All right, boys; when doing a pit stop tonight, I don’t want you to rush. You might slip and fall down, or drop a lugnut which could cut a tire.”
“Folks, Mr. Roush just called and he wants to save a little money this weekend; so, we’re only gonna be attending final practice. Don’t worry too much about qualifying; we’re in the race anyway and one pit box is pretty much as good as another.”
“I’m sorry, Cole, we can’t pit right now. We’re having ice cream.”
“Jeff, we could only get seven cylinders firing this morning. You’ll just have to do the best you can.”
In the pre-race huddle: “Remember crew, it’s not if we win or lose, it’s how much fun we have today that really counts.”
“But ma’am, our engines keep blowing up every week!”
The absentee owner replies, “Don’t worry about it. The sponsors have already paid for the year.”
“What do you think?”
“No, we don’t need to expand to a second team. One car will keep us competitive.”
“Why don’t we just use last year’s notes? We finished 15th in the points. That’s good enough.”
“I think the safety crews have fallen asleep. Let’s throw a debris caution to wake them up!”
“Hey! Where’s the No. 18?”
“Yeah, he figured he’s won enough races this year, so he went home.”
Hmmm, maybe things wouldn’t be all that different.
That is, until next time the turtle beats the hare. Then, we’ll scratch our heads in disbelief all over again.