Monday, August 29, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Pure Michigan 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston

by Stacey Owens

The driver in Victory Lane may be a new face, but the crew chief is an old pro.

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, wheeled to his first Sprint Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway. Crew chief Chad Johnston, however, has some previous experience.

Formerly the crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., Johnston was named crew chief for Larson last November. Having been to The Chase with his last driver, Johnston is looking forward to getting back to championship contention.

It may have taken Johnston some time to get acclimated to business at his new shop, but working with a tight-knit crew helped speed things along.

"Obviously you kind of hit the ground running and you get a late start, you don't have much of an offseason," Johnston said. "You kind of have to get an idea of what the cars are, how they got to that point, what you want to do different to make them better. You kind of had what they've had in the past the first three or four weeks and then decide from there what you want to do.
"A couple months into it we started making some changes. We all put our heads together. We obviously were behind the eight ball as far as being competitive on a week-to-week basis. Everybody at the shop worked their butt off in the fab shop, the body shop. Hats off to those guys. You don't make cars fast when you come to the racetrack, you make fast cars at the shop."

Johnston was quick to credit the Pure Michigan 400 win to the ones responsible for giving the team the winning car.

"Hats off to all those guys at the shop," he said. "They're the ones that deserve the win and deserve all the congratulations, because we unloaded with a fast car and didn't have to do much to it."

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

With that race-ready car, Larson led a race high 41 laps, but he needed the work of Johnston and his crew in the final pit stop to claim the win.

Johnston, however, didn't think that last stop was necessarily his crew's best work.

"I thought the stop was a little bit slow. The biggest thing was the 2 had pitted a few laps before us and took two tires for the track position. The 4 had pitted a few laps before us. We pitted on the lap we needed to pit on to make it to the end. It's hard to talk yourself into staying out two more laps or three more laps when you know those guys are gaining lap time and track position with each lap."

Sticking with his own pit stop timing paid off for Johnston, and his driver handled things for the remainder of the event. 
"The worst thing you can do is to let them force your hand and then run out of fuel at the end," Johnston said. "We stood our ground, pitted when we needed to pit. Lost a lot of ground to Chase through traffic and racing the 2 and the 4. We needed that caution obviously at the end to compete for the win.
"We did a good job of running them back down until we caught that group of three cars, I think the 6 and the 83 and another car, then lost everything we gained and then some.
"We needed that last restart. Kyle did everything he needed to do to have the lead off of two. We knew whoever had the lead off of two was probably going to win the race."

The win firmly establishes Larson and Johnston in The Chase, and fans of the young driver are anxious to see whether the No. 42 team can pull off another win in the first round.


     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.


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