Jimmie Johnson’s first Daytona 500 victory was in 2006, but it wasn’t with crew chief Chad Knaus on the pit box: Knaus was serving a NASCAR suspension due to a violation found on Johnson’s No. 48 following Daytona 500 qualifying. In winning his second Daytona 500 this past Sunday, Johnson finally got to share victory lane with his long-time crew chief.
“Chad did not experience those things in '06, experience the victory celebration,” said Johnson in a recent NASCAR teleconference. “So to have him there, see the smile on his face, soak it in, it's something that all racers dream of. They want to win the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500. To be able to pull that off a second time, to have Chad there, really share those emotions, experience those emotions, was key.”
Johnson’s win came in the first points race with NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car, but Johnson is waiting on his verdict until a few more races are under the car’s belt. “I think everybody is holding tight to see how the car races at Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, to get back into the type of racing we see on a regular basis,” said Johnson. “Driving the car, there's so much grip in it, it's going to promote aggressive driving and aggressive racing. Phoenix is a newly repaved racetrack. The groove might be a little narrow to see the side-by-side racing. I feel when we get to Vegas, we will have a downforce track under our belts, we'll have a chance to see an amazing race at Vegas, great side-by-side racing that everybody will want to see.”
In light of the fan injuries from Saturday’s accident during the last lap of the Nationwide Series at Daytona, Johnson was asked if the drivers can do anything different to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future. “I think it's crazy to ask the drivers to do anything different,” stated Johnson. “It's just impossible. When the plates were put on the car, it requires a different type of racing. Your speed comes from the car behind you. So the pushing, not necessarily physical contact, but that bubble between the two cars, that bubble is what speeds things along the most and makes things happen within the draft. You're going to block. You have to defend. You have to do things on plate tracks that drivers just don't like to do and it's not what we're used to doing, not what we're used to doing. But that's the game, that's the element. To leave the rules the same and try to impose something on the drivers in how you perform out there, that's unfair. I mean, it's absolutely unfair.”
“But we need to learn from this,” Johnson continued. “There are things that we can do, eventually that we can do, to create a safer environment for the fans. When you look at the evolution of safety, if you go back far enough, you look at the restrictor plate put in place after Bobby Allison's crash. We continue to make changes. What we saw in Talladega with the crash that happened with Brad, there were some ideas about the fence posts, the gap between them, what needed to change. Daytona implemented that into their track. When you look at the proximity of where fans sit near the racetrack, there's certain elements of our sport that are dangerous.”
“We have to be careful in how we approach this and I know that NASCAR and the tracks will be.”
Quotes in this piece provided by NASCAR Media.
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