Johnson's worked hard to keep house in order
On Saturday night, Jimmie Johnson added starting from the back, having to replace a busted alternator midway and having to dodge busting right-front tires throughout the race to the list of things he's overcome while winning four straight at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"I just keep waiting for the bottom to fall out," Johnson said.
He'll just have to keep waiting, because his streak at the racetrack is still intact. Thanks to Saturday night's win, Johnson is now tied with Tony Stewart for the points lead in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
"We're definitely excited to be where we are in points," Johnson said. "But in the first five events, nobody can predict what can happen. We're going to work as hard as we can and put 100 percent in and see where we end up. We did that last year and came up eight points short. We'll do it again this year and if it's meant to be, it's meant to be."
Johnson's been nervous about his streak at Lowe's coming to an end for a while now -- and he's not just talking about the winning streak. After wrecking his first time at the track, Johnson has now posted eight straight top-10 finishes, including six top-fives. But it hasn't been easy, which is why Johnson is always on edge when he comes to this Concord, N.C., quad-oval.
In the spring, Johnson was nowhere to be seen among the leaders for most of the race. It was only thanks to a late-race adjustment that he appeared as a contender and was the man leading when the checkered flag fell. In races prior to that, Johnson has battled back from being lapped, having to pit under green and even suffering minor damage from wrecks.
|“||We just overcame a lot of stuff. It was just a great night of teamwork. I can't thank these guys enough. ”|
|— Jimmie Johnson|
Saturday night was not much different. Johnson started the race from the back and midway through reported power problems. The team immediately pegged the alternator and told Johnson to pit so it could change the battery.
"Since we were back so far, we decided to change the batteries and make sure we didn't have an issue," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "But the batteries we took out of the car were actually in pretty decent shape and we could have left them in there. It was better to be safe than sorry."
Johnson was a bit sorry to lose his old battery, though, because after changing the battery he was left with a limping cooling system and a drink system that didn't work. Not a welcome prospect on a five-hour race night.
Still, Johnson was more concerned with working his way back up to the contenders -- hoping just to pull out a top-10.
The bevy of cautions and tire issues that Johnson had to dodge actually worked to his favor. They allowed the No. 48 team to make frequent adjustments to balance the car load over the fragile tires and also for Johnson to catch and pass dozens of cars on restarts and pit stops.
"We just overcame a lot of stuff," he said. "The guys did an incredible job of keeping their cool in the pits and changing out what we needed. Chad made a lot of great adjustments. We were burning up the right rear tire and he worked some stuff around to take the load off the tire. It was just a great night of teamwork. I can't thank these guys enough."
And the guys couldn't thank Johnson enough. After all, it was Johnson who got the team through the final obstacle -- a left-front tire that threatened to blow with two laps to go.
When Rusty Wallace brought out the night's last caution and set up a two-lap green flag run to the finish, both Johnson and Knaus winced. Neither wanted another restart to have to stave the competition. Their worry quickly escalated to fear when, upon the restart, smoke shot out of the left-front wheel well on the restart.
"I was really concerned," Johnson said. "Usually when you can smell a tire rub, you know it's pretty bad [and] I could tell in Chad's voice and my spotter's voice that it was pretty severe."
The left-front tire of the No. 48 Chevy was caught under the fender and was rubbing. It looked like the night might finish with one more tire issue -- this one a doozy.
"I moved up the racetrack to try to keep the left front from traveling as far and hitting the fender as hard," Johnson said. "I'm not sure if that really changed much. But I think the tire eventually cleared itself and moved the fender out and everything was fine from there."
As evidenced by the fist-pumping in the pits and Johnson's hooting and hollering from the car after the team won yet another Lowe's trophy.
"We're just going to have a ton of obstacles every time here, and you accept it," Knaus said. "But one thing about this Lowe's team is that they never give up and they step up when there's adversity and it's just incredible."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.