Jimmie Johnson put on a clinic at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, leading 197 of 272 laps and blowing away the competition en route to his second victory of 2011. With the victory, Johnson moved up to third in the Chase standings, just four points behind leader Carl Edwards.
On Tuesday afternoon, Johnson took questions on several topics from the media during a NASCAR teleconference. One of the questions Johnson discussed was whether he feels confident about the No. 48 team's performance at this point in the Chase.
"Yeah, I do. I really do. When I look at the four Chase races, I think the way I see it, the worst we would have finished would have been tenth based on speed. Clearly the results are different than that, but I know what we're doing on pit road and the cars we're bringing to the track and the speed that we have in our race cars. We can run top 5. We've got to go out and execute and get it done, but we have the equipment to do that, and now it's time to execute."
Qualifying has been a struggle for the Lowe's racing team throughout the season. Johnson said he's been working on it all year, but it's been an uphill battle.
"We've focused a lot on it. Unfortunately we're not getting the results. A lot of it also depends on the schedule.
"When we have a schedule like we did in Kansas where Friday you have practice and then you qualify and then two race practices on Saturday, it's easy to divide up your allotment of tires, just focus Friday on qualifying, Saturday on race, but other schedules we have everything takes place on Friday except for qualifying, so you have the race practice, then qualifying practice, then all these other cars run, you come out and run two laps, cars race again, then pick your race setup for Sunday, and it's just tough to get it right. We've seen it play a lot of games with our team and with a lot of teams.
"And I don't know what schedule we have at Charlotte. I would assume it's probably the screwy one, but I don't know. I hope that we can just focus on qualifying trim on Thursday and worry about that only, and that should help us qualify better."
One theme throughout the 2011 season has been tire strategy, and Johnson has lost at least one race in 2011 due to calls to take two or four tires and the strategy backfiring.
Crew chief Chad Knaus faced some tough calls at Kansas, but the No. 48 was so good that, on the final restart, Johnson was able to hold off Kasey Kahne, who had two tires, even when his own tires had more wear. Johnson discussed the variables that go into tire strategy throughout a race.
"[On] pit road, you kind of have to look at it like the majority rules or majority wins. If everyone is taking two, it's real safe to take two. If you're the only guy that took two and you're lined up first or second and everybody is on four behind you, you're going to have your hands full and have some issues. When you're leading a race or dominating a race -- the field is going to do the opposite. That's their chance to beat you. We saw that at Dover at the spring race where there was a couple cars that checked out on the field, and we came in for four. I was one of the three cars that had good pace, and the rest of the field went for two, and we were mired in traffic and couldn't go anywhere because the numbers worked against us. There were more guys on two in front of us and we just lined up too deep in the pack.
"That's the floating variable that you can't predict. It's easy to make that call when you're running tenth, but when you're in the top three -- and also pitted early on pit road, it is so tough to get it right because everybody is going to scan and watch what you do that's pitted further down pit road and call an audible on you.
"It is really tough, and it's hard to have the confidence in what you're going to do from a tire strategy standpoint at tracks like Charlotte and even Kansas. A track has a fair amount of wear on the tires, and we took two early in the race and made it work. So the game has changed a bunch, and it's added some frustration for sure."
Finally, Johnson discussed his competition and who he expects to be battling for the title down the stretch.
"I think it's still too early to pick a favorite, but the two guys ahead of me, Carl and Kevin, have done such an awesome job through the regular season and then in the post-season. They've been very consistent, as well. They both had races not going their way in Kansas and found a way to pull out good finishes there. So I've had a close eye on those two all year and continue to.
"But I still look down there at Kenseth and even Kyle Busch and a variety of guys that are still within striking distance. You know, there's a lot of racing left, and anything can happen. It's not time to focus on any one driver yet. We still need to make sure we're getting all the points we can as a team each and every week."
Luke Krmpotich is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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