Johnson Nabs 14th at Michigan
- Jun 20, 2002
- 48 Team
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (June 20, 2002)—Team Lowe’s Racing had another strong NASCAR Winston Cup Series showing in Sunday’s Sirius Satellite 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.
Unfortunately for rookie driver Jimmie Johnson, a near accident with three laps remaining cost the Lowe’s team another top-five finish.
“We started the race out really strong,” said crew chief Chad Knaus immediately following the race. “Jimmie was especially strong in the turns and made up a lot of ground in a hurry. We were in the top five within the first 20 laps and were gaining on the leaders in a hurry.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before we’d be up front.”
Once in the top five, Johnson remained calm, taking his time maneuvering through the leaders, and by lap 50, Johnson was in second place, gaining ground on race leader Dale Jarrett.
“The Lowe’s Monte Carlo was in great shape today,” explained Johnson in a post-race interview. “At times we were a little loose here or a little tight there, but the race car always seemed to come back to me on the long runs.
“Once again, Chad and the No. 48 crew put me in great equipment and I was able to drive it to the front.”
On lap 161, Johnson took the lead and gained a valuable five-point bonus. After taking over first place, the rookie began building a comfortable margin as Knaus and the team asked him to start conserving fuel whenever possible.
“With 40 laps remaining, we knew that everyone was going to need to make one more stop,” explained Knaus. “We asked Jimmie to drive smart and conserve fuel as much as possible. On the last stop, we elected to just take a splash of fuel not knowing that the caution would come out a few laps later and allow some teams to take on tires with just five laps remaining.”
Following Team Lowe’s pit stop on lap 186, Johnson was solidly in second place gaining a little ground on race leader and eventual winner Matt Kenseth. He was also building a comfortable lead over the third-place car of Ryan Newman.
On lap 194, the No. 21 of Elliott Sadler made contact with the wall, sending out a late-race caution. Unlike last weekend, NASCAR elected to red-flag the race, bringing the entire field to a halt on the backstretch.
When the race resumed with five laps remaining, six teams on the lead lap elected to pit and take on new tires. The Lowe’s team elected to stay out with great track position, knowing that it had one of the fastest race cars all afternoon.
When the green flag dropped with four laps to go, the Chevy Monte Carlo got a good restart and gained ground on Kenseth as the No. 12 of Newman darted inside of Johnson, trying to take over the second position. Once alongside the Lowe’s Chevy, Newman got loose and almost made contact with the No. 48.
The near collision forced Johnson off the gas and high on the racetrack, taking away valuable momentum and allowing other teams to gain track position on the Lowe’s Chevy.
“Newman bonzied it off on the bottom and got loose and collected me and shot me up the track and when that happened it broke my momentum,” said a discouraged Johnson. “There are so many cars in line and so much momentum carrying everyone that I could never get back in line and get back going.
“We were really tight and we were trying to hold our own there after we came out of the green-flag stop. But when it went back to green like that in traffic and everything that was going on we were just too tight. Once my momentum was broken, I was kind of drifting backwards at that point.”
Team Lowe’s Racing remains in second place overall in the Winston Cup standings following Sunday’s 14th-place finish, tied with teammate and car co-owner Jeff Gordon. Johnson gained 26 points on series leader Sterling Marlin and leads the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition, 26 points over second place.
Team Lowe’s returns to its driver’s home state of California this Sunday for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Johnson captured a victory earlier this season at Califronia Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the first of his career.
The race is will be broadcast live on the FOX television network (2:30 p.m. EDT) and PRN radio affiliates (2:15 p.m. EDT).