BRISTOL, Tenn. – This weekend, Jimmie Johnson will strap into a race car that has traveled 7,200 miles within the last two seasons around the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. That’s more than three times the distance from this Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway to next weekend’s event in Fontana, Calif.
Johnson has wheeled this particular No. 48 Chevrolet to conquer the Monster Mile, the historic Brickyard and, most recently, the Tricky Triangle during the two-year span. But while those tracks – Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway – all have cool monikers, Johnson’s ride is known simply as Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 48-728. And this weekend at Bristol, Johnson is looking for his fourth victory driving this versatile No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS.
Chassis No. 48-728 is one of several in the No. 48 team’s arsenal, and it has featured a variety of paint schemes during the past two years. The chassis doesn't refer directly to the body but rather to the bars beneath the body of the Chevrolet. In its June 2012 debut at Dover, Johnson lined up from the outside pole position and led a race-high 289 laps in the No. 48 Lowe’s Madagascar 3 Chevrolet en route to Victory Lane. Johnson and his team celebrated by donning rainbow-colored wigs, but crew chief Chad Knaus told the media afterward the real secret. Johnson had helped tune in the new race car during practice.
“Man, we came off the truck, and we were real fast right out of the box,” Knaus told the media after the win. “We were trying a different set up, and Jimmie felt like we needed to do something different. He made a big call personally for us to shift the setup in the race car, and we did. Jimmie did a great job with the car then and that led us down the path we were on today.”
There have been more setup shifts along the way for this chassis, but it’s worked out for the No. 48 team. To date, that path that started at Dover has included three wins, seven top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and an overall average finish of 8.3 in 12 Cup appearances. The 7,200 miles have been incurred during practice and qualifying sessions as well as the actual race. Simulated laps in the Hendrick Motorsports seven-post also count, as do the circuits Johnson turned during the 2013 Las Vegas test session.
Chassis No. 48-728 is a proven winner in the No. 48 camp, but it has quite a ways to go to reach the organization’s winningest chassis. That honor belongs to Blacker, the No. 24 Chevrolet that Jeff Gordon drove to Victory Lane 12 times between 1995-1999.
The upcoming race weekend at Bristol presents its own challenges, and given this is the first trip for this chassis to the 0.533-mile oval, more setup changes likely are in store.
“It’s a tough track and so many things can happen,” Knaus said. “But we are taking one of the best cars we can take there by far. Chassis No. 48-728 is an older Chevrolet but it’s a good car for us that’s had good runs in the past. I’m looking forward to unloading there.”