'Bad' day for Johnson a great day for any other driver
Chad Knaus told his driver to put on his cape and save the day. Jimmie Johnson didn't reel in winner Carl Edwards, but his runner-up effort after being a lap down Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway was nothing short of heroic.
Updated: October 27, 2008, 8:20 PM ETBy Ed Hinton | ESPN.com
HAMPTON, Ga. -- With bad days like Sunday, Jimmie Johnson won't need any more good ones this year.His struggle through, and spectacular finish to, the Pep Boys 500 was a study in how championships are won, and what champions are made of.The runaway Chase leader finally made a blunder, speeding onto the pit road early in the race. A pass-through penalty dropped him back to 30th.But when his day was done, Johnson had actually padded his points lead to 183 with three races remaining.And he'd left even race winner Carl Edwards astounded and deflated."Who finished second?" Edwards asked blithely in Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway.He truly had no idea. That's how fast Johnson had come up at the end, passing nine cars in the last eight laps."Are you kidding me?" Edwards said, his celebration snuffed, when told it was Johnson. "I could have done without that one. ... That's unbelievable."He looked up at the scoreboard to make sure it was so. Several minutes later, he was still stunned."I thought he was going to finish 10th or something," Edwards said. "I was real excited until I looked up at the scoreboard.""I'm just as shocked as he is," Johnson said.
During the race's final caution period, crew chief Chad Knaus made the decision to pit for four tires, dropping Johnson from eighth to 11th. "It was a great call and a risky call," Johnson said.But when the green flag flew with eight laps left, Johnson took off on a wild ride that was anything but conservative points racing."We really had the perfect storm come together," Johnson said. "The leaders, there was no way they were going to pit. There was a group of three or four guys who just got tires a couple of laps earlier, and they didn't want to give up track position. "Tires make such a difference here that I was able to get smoking around the outside and go. That's the hardest I was able to drive my car throughout the race. We could kind of treat it like eight laps of qualifying, and that's really what I did."He passed the first eight cars easily, but then on the last lap, he really showed he wasn't points racing. Running third and gunning for second, he got Denny Hamlin's car loose, and Hamlin had to fight, Johnson said, "to keep it off of me."Yet Johnson talked as if the spectacle at the end was all Knaus' doing."It just shows Chad's out there racing," Johnson said. "He's not trying to ride around and just get points. He told me to put my cape on, and off we went."Greg Biffle, who had come here second to Johnson in the standings, had predicted last week that Johnson and the 48 team would have an off day somewhere down the stretch of the Chase.This appeared to be it, for most of the afternoon, until Johnson got his net gain in points.Edwards individually gained a little ground -- though not as much as he had hoped at the checkered flag -- and is now Johnson's nearest pursuer, 183 points back.Johnson had come in with leads of 149 over Biffle and 152 over Jeff Burton. But they fell to 185 and 218 back, respectively, with 10th and 18th place finishes Sunday.
AP Photo/John BazemoreCarl Edwards picked up his seventh Sprint Cup victory of 2008 on Sunday.
It just shows Chad's out there racing. He's not trying to ride around and just get points. He told me to put my cape on, and off we went.
-- Jimmie Johnson
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