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With Chad Knaus at the ‘best point of my life,’ there may be no stopping Jimmie Johnson and No. 48 team

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Two week ago, fans and media were fretting and worrying that Jimmie Johnson had forgotten how to win and that his chances to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup were in jeopardy.

Looking back now, didn’t we all seem and sound kind of silly back then?

If you ever needed an example of how quickly fates can turn in NASCAR, Johnson is the perfect example.

Two weeks ago, he was winless but not in as much of a panic mode as his fans and the media was.

Two weeks later, Johnson is tied with Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano with two wins apiece and is unquestionably a solid lock to make the Chase.

What’s more, Johnson is ranked higher than Harvick and Logano in the standings, moving into fourth place with his win Sunday at Dover, his second straight win in as many races.

In addition, Johnson is now the winningest driver in Dover history, with nine Cup victories there. He’s also now just 27 points behind new points leader Matt Kenseth, who knocked Jeff Gordon out of the top spot in the standings after Dover – but not by much, just two points.

While Johnson has been the guy who has taken the checkered flag in the last two races, the groundwork for both those wins rests with crew chief Chad Knaus.

There was little doubt in Knaus’ mind that Johnson had the right car to win a second race in a row on Sunday. From the moment the car unloaded at the track on Friday, Knaus was confident that with a few breaks, Johnson would emerge with a good finish.

Johnson didn’t just get a few breaks, he dominated the race, leading 272 of the event’s 400 laps, just like he dominated last Sunday en route to his win in the Coca-Cola 600.

“We had come in here with high expectations obviously after winning the 600 last weekend,” Knaus said after Sunday’s win at Dover. “We came here with a brand new race car and things went really well for us straight out of the gate.

“Jimmie made his first laps on Friday, and he was very happy with the race car, and we were pretty optimistic at that point. Qualifying went really well, and then race practice Jimmie was very happy with the race car, and we were posting very good lap times, so we were pretty excited to get into the event today.”

Johnson joked on the team radio after the race that Knaus had told him “I knew you would love this car,” a fact that Knaus laughed about while acknowledging that conversation.

“Going into the 600 last weekend, I told Jimmie we were taking his favorite race car to the racetrack for the 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and I told him that his new favorite car was going to be going to Dover the following week, and then I told him his next favorite car was going to be going to Indianapolis,” Knaus said. “So far I’m doing pretty good, and hopefully we can keep it true.”

Knaus and Johnson heard all the things fans and media said when they were still winless before Charlotte. But rather than let the negativity and pessimism get in their heads, they used it as an inspirational tool.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Knaus said. “The one thing I’m really impressed with at Hendrick Motorsports is when we do get behind, which we feel like we’ve been just a pinch behind this year, everybody digs down really, really deep and they work hard.

“From the pit crew, from the guys that hang the bodies to the guys that build the chassis to the guys that build the engines, they try to find an advantage.”

And now that Johnson and the No. 48 team have put together back-to-back wins and have locked themselves into the Chase, what’s next?

Something that the other 40-plus Cup drivers don’t want to hear: Knaus predicts his team is only going to get even better from here on out, with a good likelihood of a third straight win next Sunday at Pocono.

“When we do finally start to hit our stride, all those things that everybody worked on starts to culminate, and we can get out there and really start to make things happen,” Knaus said. “I think we’re seeing a lot of the fruit of a lot of people’s labor right now at the racetrack, and definitely looking forward to getting to Pocono.

“I’ve said it time and time again, Pocono is one of my favorite racetracks. I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s very difficult. So from a driver standpoint, this is definitely a tough racetrack. From a Pocono standpoint, it’s definitely difficult crew chief’s tough track, so I’m looking forward to getting there.”

To say Knaus is enjoying the last week’s success is an understatement. But it’s also a reflection of where Knaus is at in his career, too. While so much attention has been focused on Johnson’s bid to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s record of seven Cup championships, Knaus is just going about doing what he’s done for the last decade-plus.

“If you ask Jimmie, I was a jerk three weeks ago,” Knaus laughed, before reverting back to serious reflection.

“Quite honestly I’m at the best point in my life,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have been in this sport for a long time. I’ve seen it grow and change, and it’s been a weird circuitous route to get to where we are now.

“But quite honestly, I’ve never been happier in my life with my personal life, my performance at the racetrack, what we’ve got going on, and Jimmie has helped a lot with that. So has Mr. Hendrick as far as making me understand that I’ve got to take time away from the facility and understand that there’s life outside of motorsports.

“I’ve tried for a long time to deny that fact, but I’m really, really enjoying it all the way around. It’s fun. Trust me, we’re going back to Charlotte tonight and we’re heading up to Loudon, New Hampshire, tomorrow evening, and then we go race Pocono and go we go back home from Pocono and then we head out to Chicago to tire test the week after that. It’s busy as ever, but we’re in a good spot right now. Everything is great.”

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James Hinchcliffe has 11-week lead in IndyCar race at Texas

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) James Hinchcliffe has been leading the IndyCar race at Texas for such a long time.

When the rain-interrupted race resumes on lap 72 Saturday night at the high-banked – and hopefully dry – 1 1/2-mile oval, Hinchcliffe will have led for 76 days.

“It’s better than not leading at all, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe said, with a chuckle. “The most important thing is that we’re still leading at the end.”

A lot has happened in the 2 1/2 months since that waterlogged June weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, including the completion of five other IndyCar Series races. Will Power won three of them, the last being 500 miles at Pocono on Monday after a one-day rain delay.

Since the Texas race was red-flagged on June 12 – and technically still is – the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup, and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title that ended Cleveland’s 52-year major title drought.

Among other sports headlines in that span, Andy Murray and Serena Williams added Grand Slam titles by winning at Wimbledon, three major champions were crowned in golf, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Michael Phelps won more gold medals at the Olympics in Rio this month.

“It’s unique in that James Hinchcliffe has been leading for 2 1/2 months, and surely he’s got to go to the bathroom before we get started here,” Speedway President Eddie Gossage said with a smile.

“It’s been fun. There’s been a lot of interesting chatter on Twitter, and certainly Eddie reminding people every other day that I’m still leading,” Hinchliffe said. “Hopefully, he can be telling people every other day that we won the race.”

Hinchcliffe, the Indianapolis 500 polesitter who led 27 laps before finishing seventh there in May, hasn’t led another lap since leaving Texas.

The last time an IndyCar race started and resumed another day was at Brazil in 2011, but that was only 24 hours. After the first 14 laps and a 2 1/2-hour rain delay there, the final 41 laps were completed the next day with polesitter Power winning.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve done before as far as rainouts go,” Power said about going back to Texas, where he will resume running fourth.

Unlike the quick resumption in Brazil five years ago, IndyCar drivers are returning to Texas 11 weeks later and will have only a 10-minute practice session before starting to race again.

Only 71 of the scheduled 248 laps were completed in June , when the Firestone 600 was initially postponed from Saturday night without the cars ever making it to the starting grid. After the race started 40 minutes late Sunday and then the rain returned, the decision for an unprecedented months-long delay was made since there was more wet weather in the immediate forecast.

Heavy rain fell for several hours after the cars came off the track 54 laps shy of what was needed to make it an official race. There were indeed more downpours the following day.

Since IndyCar rules don’t allow for starting over a race that has already taken the green flag, the only choice was to resume the race from where it was stopped.

Hinchcliffe took the lead for the first time on lap 41, the last green-flag lap counted before a hard crash involving Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, who won’t be allowed to resume this weekend. Newgarden sustained a broken collarbone and small fracture in his hand, but won a month later at Iowa.

There were 30 laps run under caution while track officials worked to repair the damaged safety barrier, and that work was still being done along the frontstretch when the rain started falling again.

“I’ll be perfect honestly, I tried to convince IndyCar to restart the race, as did several drivers, but their rulebook says what it says and I can’t fault them for that,” Gossage said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things … who would think it’s going to rain, and rain for days and we knew we couldn’t do it.”

Fast Facts: Firestone 600 (resumption) at Texas Motor Speedway

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Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s resumption of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the 14th of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule:

Firestone 600 (The Resumption) Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, June 10 – Saturday, Aug. 27 (Race was scheduled for June 11, started on June 12 and was red-flagged after 71 laps. Race is scheduled to restart on Aug. 27)

Track: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.455-mile oval in Fort Worth, Texas

Race distance: 248 laps / 360.84 miles (177 laps/257.535 miles remaining)

Firestone tire allotment: Each Entrant will be allotted one new set of tires for the mandatory install lap and practice session. Entrants will be allotted six new sets for the race.

Twitter: @TXMotorSpeedway @IndyCar, #Firestone600, #IndyCar

Event website: www.TexasMotorSpeedway.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2015 race winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 Energizer EcoAdvanced Chevrolet)

Current race leader: James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda)

Current running order: Firestone 600 Lap 71 (PDF) Note: Cars must be in the aerodynamic configuration they were in when the race was red flagged. The only exception will be the front wing angle. Lap count will begin the first time by the start/finish line upon exiting pit lane.

2016 Verizon P1 Award winner: Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda), 48.2460 seconds, 217.137 mph (two laps)

NBCSN television broadcast: Race, 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 27 (live); Kevin Lee is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcast this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Brad Gillie reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209,IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: The practice session from Texas Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET,Saturday Aug. 27) will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):
Saturday, Aug. 27
4:30 – 5 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
8:15 p.m. – Command to restart engines
8:16 p.m. – Firestone 600 resumes on Lap 72 (171 laps/257.535 miles remain), NBCSN (Live)

Championship facts:
•  Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with three races to be completed for the first time in his career.
•  Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 20 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix. With 54 maximum points available at Texas, the points lead could change for the second time in 2015.
•  There are 15 drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. Any driver who trails the points leader by 158 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.
•  Three drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Pocono on Aug. 22 – Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly.
•  Since the first Indy car race at Texas in 1997, the winning driver has won the championship six times: Sam Hornish Jr (2001 Race 2; 2002 Race 2); Tony Kanaan (2004 Race 1), Scott Dixon (2008 and 2015) and Dario Franchitti (2011 Race 1).

Key championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the championship in five of the last six seasons. Will Power in 2014 is the exception.

Point differential: The 20 points which separate Simon Pagenaud and Will Power is the third smallest margin with three races remaining since 2010. Will Power led Helio Castroneves by four points in 2014 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points in 2012. The average deficit with three races to go since 2010 is 23.16 points.

Championship-eligible drivers’ results at Texas: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Will Power have all won races at Texas Motor Speedway. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan have seven podium finishes. Pagenaud’s best finish was fourth in 2014. Newgarden (who will not participate in the race’s resumption due to crash on June 12) has never finished better than eighth.

Tornado near IMS also interrupts Indy Lights road course Cooper Tire test

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17:  A general view of the Pagoda during practice for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was meant to be having a full day of Cooper Tire testing for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Zach Veach was the one undertaking the testing in a Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Veach had a busy morning, noting he’d run two full race distances.

And then an afternoon interruption came in the way of a tornado near Speedway, Ind.

Testing was paused this afternoon and those on site at IMS went for cover.

A tornado struck near Kokomo Speedway this afternoon, where a celebration of life for Bryan Clauson was taking place, and leveled a Starbucks.

Here’s a number of tweets and social posts from near IMS for this tornado:

Wow…not sure it that touched down but it was darn close. #tornado #Indianapolis

A photo posted by Michael Young (@trackdude500) on

Tornado strikes just few miles from Bryan Clauson tribute

clauson tribute kokomo
(Photo courtesy of USACNation Twitter page)
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A celebration of the life of late Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson has been interrupted — but not impacted — by a tornado that has caused considerable damage just a few miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

The celebration of Clauson’s life brought out a packed house at Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite racetracks. He lived in nearby Noblesville. The celebration began shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Kokomo Speedway, which apparently did not suffer any damage from the tornado, is located about four miles northwest of the mall.

The tornado struck near the Markland Mall, located on the east side of Kokomo at the intersection of 17th and Reed streets, causing significant damage, including the flattening of a Starbucks coffee shop that abuts the mall.

A large presence of first responders is on-scene at the mall, and there are other reports of significant property damage in other areas, particularly the east side of Kokomo.

The city of Kokomo, the 13th largest city in Indiana with a population of approximately 60,000, is about 50 miles due north of Indianapolis.

Here are some of the first reports on Twitter, including several from many of Clauson’s fellow drivers and other motorsports officials:

 

 

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