Jimmie Johnson dominates AAA Texas 500; credits test sessions two weeks prior to race for team’s success
By Rick Minter
To hear Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus tell it, the start of their dominating run in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday can be traced to a test session at the track two weeks prior to the race weekend.
“After two days, we really honed in on the balance of the car and comfort of the car,” Johnson said in his winner’s interview after leading the most laps, winning the race and moving seven points ahead of Matt Kenseth with just two races left to run. “We felt really strong about things, but at the same time, we’re here testing, as all of our competitors were as well. So it was tough to leave here overly excited, because your competition is here getting better and getting data and all of that as well.
“So we came back and just kept our blinders on and focused on our team, our race car and got the thing pretty dang awesome.”
Knaus pointed out that Kenseth, who entered Texas tied with Johnson atop the points standings but finished fourth in the race, didn’t have such a good Texas test. He crashed his No. 20 Toyota after blowing a tire during the session.
“I know if I was [Kenseth’s team], and I came here and on my last day of testing I blew a right-front tire, I’d be nervous coming back,” Knaus said. “So that had to have been looming over them.”
Knaus said he believes his No. 48 team also came out ahead in a test session last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, in which teams prepared for the season-ending Ford 400.
“Quite honestly, based on what I saw at Homestead, they’re probably pretty nervous about that same thing happening there,” he said.
Knaus said there were several things learned at the Texas test, which was rained out and then rescheduled, that helped his team score its first victory on a 1.5-mile track this year.
“I think it was very beneficial for us,” he said. “We were able to really kind of break down what the race car was doing. Jimmie was able to go out there and kind of explore a little bit and find the nuances of the race track in kind of a more calm environment.
“I think it paid huge dividends for us from a lot of different levels, and it was good.”
Kenseth shouldered much of the blame for his team’s inability to come up with a winning setup at Texas, which historically has been one of his best tracks.
“We’re just a little off,” he said. “I just couldn’t help [the crew] enough to give them the information they needed to get in the car what I needed to run a little bit better.
“It’s all on me. We just worked hard that first [Texas] race, came and tested, worked hard through all the practice sessions, threw a lot of stuff at it and just never had it quite good enough.”
But Kenseth said Johnson’s points lead can be overcome.
“It’s not insurmountable,” he said. “It’s still in your hands. The math works out if you win the last two races.
“If we go out there and can outrun everybody for two weeks, then it’s ours.”