Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Axalta 400 Winning Crew Chief, Johnny Klausmeier

by Stacey Owens

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

Shakespeare may not have been thinking about NASCAR when he penned that famous quote, but it certainly applies to the track record of Johnny Klausmeier, who at only his second time atop the No. 41 war wagon led Kurt Busch to his first win of the 2016 season.

Was the engineer who pinch hit for Tony Gibson, suspended for a lugnut infraction, nervous about calling the shots?

"Yeah, it was nerve-racking, but it all ended up working out really good," Klausmeier said. "We just knew that we were racing guys on fuel that had the same engine horsepower, Hendrick power, as us, so we knew that we should be in the same sequence as them. Kurt did a great job of saving it. We just kind of kept him informed on everything that was going on, and he took it and ran with it, and it was great."

Having Klausmeier in his ear was markedly different for Busch, who's accustomed to hearing from Gibson. Busch told reporters after the win at Pocono Raceway that hearing Klausmeier in his ear telling him to save fuel versus hearing Gibson tell him to save fuel was different because Klausmeier is an engineer. 

"I don't know what it was," Busch said. "His voice was way more calming than Gibson. When you have an engineer calculating your fuel, I mean, it's a calculator. I know Gibson can do it just the same, but when you have a new guy or somebody different and you're not at your full strength, there's something that happens to everybody on the team. Everybody pulls harder. Everybody digs in a little bit deeper, and not having Tony Gibson here today, I know everybody gave that much more, and this is a win for Gibson.
            
"He's assembled this group of guys, and Klausmeier took over, and it was a perfect called race. We had a great setup to maintain speed, and when he says you're two laps shy, I'm like, great, all right, well, let's see what we can get, and I knew he was going to gamble. I knew I needed to do my best to preserve the fuel and to deliver the win," Busch explained.

Did Klausmeier have as much confidence in himself as Busch as in him? Not exactly.

"I was definitely nervous," Klausmeier said. "You know how the deal goes. You can be hero or zero really quick. I knew once we took the white flag we would be in good shape, and once we got to that milestone I felt pretty confident in it."
Johhny Klausmeier, left, and Kurt Busch at Ponono Raceway, June 6, 2016.
Credit: Rebecca Kivak for Skirts and Scuffs  
It's always exciting for a driver to realize he's Chase-eligible, but what's it like for a substitute crew chief to realize that he's helped his driver get a Chase berth?

"... it hasn't really sunk in yet, but I'm sure tonight it will be. Like I said, the biggest thing for me is just the relief of being into the Chase with one win. I think that's huge. Like I said, we've been so close, it's just a matter of getting that off our shoulders, and now we can just build our notebook for the Chase," Klausmeier said.

Chances are good that other teams looking to grab a Chase spot would like a peek inside the notebook of the only "substitute crew chief" to earn such a spot. Those might be prized notebook pages indeed.

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   Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life
 
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
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