Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Jimmie Johnson's 'golden horseshoe' hasn't lost any luster

  This is the dude you want to hang with in Vegas (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   FONTANA, Calif.
   So just how big is that golden horseshoe?
   The golden horseshoe that runner-up Kevin Harvick grumbled winner Jimmie Johnson seems to carry from track to track.
   "They're really good...but they're really, really lucky too," Harvick said after Sunday's stretch charge against Johnson came up just short. "Jimmie is a good friend of mine, but there's no way getting around how lucky they are.
    "They did a good job in winning the race...but they have a golden horseshoe. There's no way to get around that."
     "I'm not discounting the fact we were handed a huge gift...but we've had plenty of races go the other way," Johnson was saying at sunset Sunday night after a 'lucky' victory in the California 500 over Harvick and Jeff Burton, which hinged on an odd turn of events.
   "You don't win four straight championship just by being lucky."
    The situation: Burton was leading, just ahead of teammate Harvick, when Johnson and others began what looked like the final round of pit stops under green.
   Just as Johnson reached pit road, though, the yellow came out for Brad Keselowski's spin, on lap 225 of the 250-lapper. Since pit road hadn't been 'closed' yet by NASCAR, Johnson got the 'free' early pit stop, since the rest of the field would have to pit too. However Burton had a shot at pinning Johnson a lap down in the pits depending on which man reached the 'cutoff' mark first. Burton had to slow down, because the track was under caution, or risk a penalty by NASCAR. Johnson reached the mark just a tick ahead of Burton, and thus Johnson stayed on the lead lap, and when Burton and Harvick both pitted Johnson had the lead for the final restart on lap 231.
    Harvick beat Burton out of the pits, but Johnson got a good jump on the restart. Harvick rallied back, however, until scraping the wall with just a few laps left.
   "We were able to beat Jeff Burton out of the pits, and Jimmie not panicking was key, and so was our pit crew,"  crew chief Chad Knaus said of the winning move on pit road.
   The winning edge over Harvick and Burton Johnson said was simple: "Track position. He (Harvick) was faster than I was.
    "I got away from him (just after the restart). Then I started to get real loose, and then he kept marching up there and getting closer and closer.
    "Me having track position made the difference."
    However elsewhere in the Rick Hendrick camp things weren't going too well. Jeff Gordon was never a factor, and finished 20th. Mark Martin did take advantage of everything he could and finished fourth, though never really a factor. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another miserable day: "We tore up an axle or a drive plate. Down in the center of turns one and two I got back to the gas and the car felt like it had a flat tire.
    "Something's going on there where we're chewing that stuff up and tearing it up."

   As hot as Richard Childress' stuff has been this season, why in the world would Kevin Harvick want to leave the Gil Martin team? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    But there's no denying that Harvick and the Richard Childress operation have made some major gains since last season. Harvick had the best car at Daytona last week and he might well have had the best car here, certainly one of the top-three. And Harvick is taking the Sprint Cup tour points lead up the road to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
    The race, under somewhat chilly and mostly overcast skies, with a few sprinkles of rain, played to an announced crowd of 72,000, though the 92,000-seat arena appeared maybe only half filled.
    "To start the year off good is always a good thing, especially the way we started last year wasn't spectacular," Harvick said.
    Yet despite his hot start Harvick has seemed in an odd mood about it all. Whether that's any indication of what he might be doing or thinking about on the contract front – this is final year on the current contract with Childress, and last year Harvick showed signs of dissatisfaction – is unclear.
   "It's just what we're supposed to do," Harvick said. "That's what we get paid to do, to drive the car as hard as we can. And we're supposed to run upfront.
   "Right now it's just everybody's very motivated...letting our cars talk for us."

   The surprise of the day was that a Jack Roush driver didn't win, given that operation's record at this track.
   Greg Biffle had a very good shot at the win, but that last round of pit stops hurt. Johnson beat then-leader Jeff Burton to the cutoff line, but Biffle and Kyle Busch didn't. So Johnson was the leader on the final restart, and Biffle and Busch were a lap down.
   On top of that, if Burton had been just the blink of an eye quicker to that cutoff mark under the yellow he'd have pinned Johnson a lap down, and that would have set up a 1-2 finish for car owner Richard Childress, instead of 2-3.
    When the caution comes out, drivers are supposed to slow down, because the field is 'frozen.' However this time the win was on the line: "There's a fine line between slowing down and not slowing down. I don't know where that line is," Burton conceded.
   "We were nine-tenths of a second quicker on those last laps than we'd run before that stop, and that's just track position (clean air)," Johnson said.
   Biffle wasn't happy with his misfortunes: "We had a really good car.  We just got a tough break on that last caution...which figures.  It seems like we're always on the wrong side of it.
    "But we had a good car. It was obvious I could run with Jimmie and the other guys up front.
    "It's just unfortunate there at the end with that deal on pit road. 
     "We came back for a 10th -place finish...but that's the way it goes."
      How much to put into Sunday's 500, in analyzing which teams have turned things around from 2009?
     How does Biffle think about the competitiveness of the Ford teams with the Chevy guys? "I think we've got a-ways to go, but we're getting closer," Biffle said.
     Matt Kenseth, Biffle's teammate, and running the new Ford FR9 engine (Biffle was running the old 452), was about as strong as Biffle down the stretch and finished seventh, working with new crew chief Todd Parrott. Kenseth won this race last year, but he didn't fare as well here last fall.
    "It was up and down," Kenseth said of Sunday's 500. "We didn't really run great. 
    "We actually ran about how I expected to run -- which was pretty good. 
     "It was a lot better than we did here at California last time. We made some improvement on our cars over the winter and got everything a little closer."
     Kenseth's 2009 started so well, with two quick wins, but then he was first-out at Las Vegas. This time heading up I-15 toward Nevada?
    "I'm feeling great as far as the two finishes we've had," Kenseth said. "It sounds dumb, me saying that, since we won the first two last year. But to get out of Daytona, with all the troubles we had, and finish eighth, and then to come here, in Todd's first weekend, and finish seventh is pretty good. 
     "We ran a little worse than some of our teammates at times, and a little better at times. And it seemed like we ran as good as most of the Fords.
    "I still think we've got some work to do, to get all of our cars better as a group, but I thought overall that our team did a good job."

    Over in the Chip Ganassi camp things didn't quite so well. Juan Pablo Montoya did show the quickest car early in the 3-1/2 hour race, but his engine blew up just past the halfway mark. And teammate Jamie McMurray, who had started from the pole, ran out of luck, getting a penalty for a loose tire rolling around the pits on a round of stops, and he never recovered, finishing 17th.

    But clearly the Childress camp is upbeat: "The first half of the race we struggled a little bit with handling, but the second half we ran well," Burton said. "I got busted for speeding on pit road...and that turned our day around right there. I don't know why, but we took off after that. We had to start last and got up to sixth quickly....as quirk as I've seen anybody pass on this track in a long time.
   "Kevin has had a shot to win both races. We weren't quite as good as they were at Daytona; here at times they were better than us, at times we were better than them.
    "I think Kevin, by far, the first two races of the year, has been the best car."


      [Note: You can use Twitter as an easy headline service for mikemulhern.net stories, with our instant Tweets to your mobile as soon as our newest NASCAR story is filed. And mikemulhern.net is mobile-friendly for viewing. You can also use the orange RSS feed button as a quickie headline service on your laptop or home computer for mikemulhern.net stories, by creating a Live Bookmark RSS feed on your web browser's toolbar. Or you can create a Google Alert for mikemulhernnet.]

  Jeff Burton: says teammate Kevin Harvick had the class of the field car in NASCAR at both Daytona and California (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

"However Burton had a shot at

"However Burton had a shot at pinning Johnson a lap down in the pits depending on which man reached the 'cutoff' mark first. Burton had to slow down, because the track was under caution, or risk a penalty by NASCAR."

Where was the pace car at this point and unless #31 was going to risk passing the pace car, shouldn't beating the #48 to the line been to his agenda?

How fast is fast on the track during a caution, especially when your leading?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com