Johnson wins again and shrugs off the haters

It’s only fitting that Jimmie Johnson’s latest romp through the

record books was shrouded in post-race controversy.

What’s a Johnson win, after all, without a good conspiracy

theory?

The latest instance of black helicopters hovering over the

Hendrick Motorsports team came in the closing laps of Saturday

night’s Sprint All-Star Race after Johnson headed down pit road in

the fourth position for the final stop. A speedy quick four-tire

change sent him back onto the track in second and put him in

position for his record fourth All-Star race victory.

But an error by the television production crew led to an

incorrect graphic during the live telecast that claimed Johnson

should have lined up much lower in the field going on to pit

road.

So as the beer and champagne swirled in Victory Lane, angry fans

pounced on the inconsistency and argued Johnson should never have

been in position for the win.

Johnson simply offered a bemused shrug.

”I don’t have the slightest clue. People just want to hate,”

he said. ”That’s fine. I’m just lucky. NASCAR rigs the races and

whatever they want to believe. I’m going home with a cool trophy

and a big check and we all really know what happened. So

whatever.”

Whatever is what the rest of the field was saying after yet

another Johnson win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The five-time NASCAR champion became the first four-time winner

of NASCAR’s annual All-Star race, breaking a tie with the late Dale

Earnhardt and teammate Jeff Gordon.

It was fitting that he did it at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the

track Johnson, the five-time NASCAR champion, has dominated since

his 2002 rookie season. Johnson has won six points races at

Charlotte, led more than 1,600 laps and the win in the $1 million

Sprint All-Star Race was his second straight, fourth in 12 years.

He also won in 2003 and 2006.

Now he’ll head back to the track next week for the Coca-Cola

600, a race he won three straight years from 2003-05 when the No.

48 was unbeatable at Charlotte. The rest of the field caught up to

him following a repave of the track, and Johnson’s last win in a

points race was 2009.

”We’ve had decent finishes and been competitive and led laps,

but the track is just so different now than it was then, and we had

it scienced out,” Knaus said. ”We knew literally what time in the

afternoon, what the adjustment needed to be made to the car, and it

was like clockwork, didn’t matter the year, just every single time.

It’s not that way anymore.”

But Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have been chipping away,

working hard to regain their Charlotte dominance.

The speedway is important to Hendrick Motorsports, which is

headquartered just minutes away from the track, and to primary

sponsor Lowe’s, which is headquartered in nearby Mooresville.

”We certainly want to have that magic because winning here in

Hendrick’s backyard and Lowe’s corporate offices just up the road,

there’s a lot of reasons we want to be good here,” Johnson said.

”But more importantly, it’s like we know that we’ve had it, so we

feel like we can find it again, and we’re knocking on the

door.”

With these two weeks of racing at Charlotte circled on the

calendar, Knaus, meticulous in his preparation, made three changes

to his pit crew in the week leading into the race. It’s not that

anything was wrong with the No. 48 team – Johnson has a 44-point

lead in the Sprint Cup standings over second-place Carl Edwards –

but Knaus thought the team could be stronger.

It paid off on the final pit stop – a four-tire change in 11

seconds – and it made the difference in his All-Star victory.

”I really didn’t think that we would be able to come down pit

road and have a stop that fast, and man, those guys just absolutely

nailed it,” Knaus said. ”My hat’s off to them. They’ve been

working really, really hard trying to improve, and we’ve had to

switch some things around during the course of the last month or so

and the guys really rose to the occasion.

”I’m very, very proud of the effort from everybody at Hendrick

Motorsports and everybody with the 48 team and what they’ve been

able to accomplish over the course of the last few weeks to improve

our pit stops.”

That could mean trouble for the competition, especially as

Johnson heads into Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

But that’s a week away, and Johnson wanted to savor Saturday

night’s record-making win. It gave him another spot in the history

books, and another opportunity to reflect on where he stands in

NASCAR lore.

Of course, Johnson deferred.

”I don’t think it’s a question I have to answer. I still have a

lot of years left in my career,” he said. ”That’s something the

public and masses will have to come up with. I don’t think it’s

right for me to sit here and say I’m this guy or the guy. I’m very

proud of what I’ve accomplished and I still feel like there is a

lot more I can do in this sport.

”I’m working hard to do that and when I’m old and sitting in a

rocking chair hopefully people will think highly of what I’ve done

and give me a tip of the hat.”

Even the haters.