Right Sides Only: Notes from the Auto Club 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston

by Stacey Owens

Second place is often considered the "first loser." Even Ricky Bobby in "Talladega Nights" touted his dad's sentiment that "if you aren't first, you're last." Kyle Larson had three consecutive second-place finishes before finally wheeling his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to Victory Lane in California this weekend.

Larson talked about his team's performance after the win.

"Yeah, it was definitely a great run for us. We were able to lead a lot of laps within that first stage. Then I made a mistake on pit road. Slid through -- not through my box, but through my sign. I was too close to the wall on the left side. The jack couldn't get up as fast. Our stop was really slow on that one. I lost some spots.
"Was able to get right to second, though, on the restart. Kind of abused my tires that run, fell back to third or fourth. Then got back to second for the end of that second stage.

"Had a good restart there to start the final stage. Got out to the lead. Tried to run my own pace, take care of my tires. Actually pulled away from Truex quite a bit. Then he had gained a lot us on that green-flag stop. Probably came to pit lane a little slow, because the stop before I came in really hot and almost sped. He closed in on us there.

"He was really good when we left for that run. I had to battle him. He got by me. I was able to get back by him. Then kind of pulled away a little bit.

"That's when all the cautions starting coming out. We had some decent restarts there at the end. But still had more cautions. Had to actually come back down pit road, put four new tires on, get some more good restarts.

Credit: Charlotte Bray  
"The pit calls were great. The pit crew did an amazing job. A fairly clean race for us. Lots of fun to be Kyle Larson right now," the driver explained.

The race-winning move was the call by crew chief Chad Johnston to bring Larson down pit road for four tires when the two drivers behind him stayed out.

Team owner Chip Ganassi didn't think he could have made that call.

"I will tell you, I did not have the nerve to make that call," Ganassi said. "That's why there's [sic] guys that do that way better than me. I used to do that in my younger days, you know, run the cars, but I don't do that anymore for that reason.

"That was the winning call. That was obviously the winning call. So my hat is off to Chad Johnston for making that call."

Johnston made the decision based on track dynamics.

"In general at a place like this where you have a lot of tire falloff, it makes that decision [to pit] a little bit easier," Johnston said. "You get two or three laps on your tires, you're kind of at a disadvantage. I try to always put him in the position to be the aggressor. I don't feel like there's going to be anybody better on a restart than what he will be, especially if I give him tires.

"We had a fast enough car. I didn't figure that many cars would stay out. Only three stayed out, which gave us the top and fourth, which I figured would work out pretty well for us. As usual, we get a lot of late cautions here. It went green for the most part. I think at one point we had 18 cars on the lead lap.

"The segments definitely brought something different to it, brought some more interest and more cars back on the lead lap. But at the end of the day, you know, we just had a fast enough car to do what we needed to do."

The car was definitely fast, and Larson's comfort with the track was a bonus.

"Fontana is a track that really suits me," Larson said. "Hopefully, we can learn a lot throughout the rest of the season at all these other racetracks and get some more wins."

As Larson gains a similar comfort level with other tracks, he'll definitely be one to watch throughout the season. A virtual lock for the playoffs, folks on the No. 42 Target team may find themselves with targets on their backs because the entire field is likely to be chasing them all year.

 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.
Right Sides Only: Notes from the Auto Club 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston Right Sides Only: Notes from the Auto Club 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, March 27, 2017 Rating: 5