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Jimmie Johnson: Once again he's both lucky and good

   Las Vegas: Nice Day, Nice Crowd.....Nice Finish, for Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

    So was Jimmie Johnson lucky again?
    Did rival-teammate Steve Letarte make the wrong call at the end of Sunday's Las Vegas 400, turning Jeff Gordon's dominant car into a third-place finisher?
   Well, Chad Knaus, who shares the weekday shop with Letarte was quick to defend his teammate's decision to take only two tires on that final stop with 50 miles to go, while he, Knaus, opted for four for Johnson, who turned that turn of events into his second Sprint Cup tour victory of the season.
    "Steve did not make the wrong call," Knaus said. "He did what he thought he needed to do to win the race
     "There wasn't a wrong call to make -- They came in first, they wanted to maintain track position, because track position is so critical....and the only way for us to beat them was to do something different.
    "I didn't know they were taking two tires. He didn't know we were taking four tires.
    "We felt if we took four tires and left pit road somewhere in the top-eight, we would have a shot to win, if everybody else took two. To leave pit road in third, we were pleased.
     "Now if the yellow had come out with 10 laps to go, it would have been even more interesting, because you would have had fewer people even hitting.
    "You have to be willing to change as the race goes. You don't know when the cautions are going to fall.
    "I felt very confident a lot of people were going to take two tires. With the way our car was running, and the way we typically run on (just) two tires, it wasn't even an option for me."
   Then it was up to Johnson.
    Johnson had to scramble on the late restart to get in position, starting behind Clint Bowyer, who had the lead because he hadn't stopped for tires. With Gordon on the inside, Johnson pushed Bowyer into the first turn, and effectively pushed Bowyer right out of the way. Then Johnson glued himself to Gordon's rear, waiting for Gordon's left-side tires to start giving up, which they finally did with about 17 laps to go, opening the door for the winning pass.
    "I couldn't let Jeff get a big jump on us," Johnson explained.  "Clint was starting the race...and I just decided when Clint should go and started pushing him.
    "I think when I pushed him into the corner, he wasn't really ready for me to push him that far, and he kind of checked up, and I went to the outside blowing by."
     Team owner Rick Hendrick says Knaus' calls continue to amaze him: "I'm amazed at how quick he adapts. Like the call on pit road in California, to go ahead and change the tires.
    "And Jimmie is the closest thing I've seen to a computer in the car. Two of them together have developed into an awesome combination. They very seldom make a mistake."
    But, gosh, darned, aren't these guys just a little too lucky?
      "Last week I agree with everybody -- we were lucky," Johnson said, referring to his California 500 win. "But we were lucky with the opportunity...Luck didn't allow us to win the race. We were lucky when the caution came out.
     "If people are trying to find a way not to accept the quality of race team we have, that's cool. We'll just come back this week and take the trophy again."
      So Johnson and Gordon certainly made up for last year's troubles here: "Last year we were really, really fast," Johnson said. "Then Jeff missed pit road, and we were leading the race coming to pit road under green, and Jeff  was trying to follow us in and flat-spotted the left-front tire, and while he was driving around, the tire blew....he got a caution, but we were unlucky being on pit road at that point.
     "Then I was trying to come back up through the field and hit the wall off turn two."
      And in 2008 here Johnson and Knaus were simply off their game.
     So what does this all tell Johnson: "It's early in the year, but it is a relief to know we worked in the right areas over the off-season.
    "But we can't sit still; complacency is going to kill you. So we're looking forward to going to Atlanta with new ideas and new things."
   After all it looks the Richard Childress bunch has pulled even with the Hendrick bunch, and if Greg Biffle gets any luck at all, and if Matt Kenseth continues clicking with new crew chief Todd Parrott, there might be some good rivalries this spring.
   "Kevin Harvick and his guys, they're definitely on it, without a doubt," Johnson said. "You cannot ignore the fact that all three Childress teams have a ton of speed. So they've worked in the right areas over the off-season and have closed the gap up a ton."
    And then there's the Dale Earnhardt Jr. element. While Johnson and Gordon ran so well, and teammate Mark Martin managed somehow to pull off a fourth, Earnhardt was never a factor.
    Hendrick's thoughts about Earnhardt's program right now? "I think we made a lot of improvements.
    "I think we didn't get to show the car was coming back well at California, when we broke an axle. And here we ran up front that long green-flag stretch. He was good there at the end. 
    "So I feel they've made a ton of improvement. I think we're going to have a really good year. I'm looking forward to Atlanta."
   And Atlanta has typically been a great track for Earnhardt.


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In the logical sense, Chad is

In the logical sense, Chad is right about the call. But when your car was as fast as Jeff's was. He could have put on 4 tires and strong enough to run away and catch the field later. He was doing it all day long, and if a caution would have came out late, he was in a better position of having 2 extra "fresher" tires than a "worn" pair cause no one else would gave up that track position to come down pit road that late in the race. Plus for #24, the double field restarts would have bunched up the field and with the strong restarts he had all day, he would have picked them off one by one.

I think in Chad's mindset, he didn't have anything to lose but everything to gain. He wasn't going for track position, like Steve Letarte, he was going for the win!

actually, four tires is a no

actually, four tires is a no brainer for 24. at worst you'll restart in the seventh row, with mostly dogs in front of you. if dodge any wrecks on the restart, as strong as jeff was, you'll be leading again in 6-8 laps. and how many guys took only two tires? maybe jeff should have given the lead to jimmie late, and then watched what chad and jimmie did, before deciding on tires.....

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