Monday, August 14, 2017

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

by Stacey Owens

When you're in your 20s, it's fairly easy to work all day, stay up most of the night, and be fresh enough to get up and do it all over the next day. Just ask Kyle Larson who competed in the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday night and returned to the Michigan track at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday before winning the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday afternoon. Not bad for a weekend, huh?

Larson's crew chief, Chad Johnston, was on hand to help make the car better throughout the afternoon so that Larson could wheel it through traffic.

"We didn't have the best car, and obviously most of the time the best car doesn't win. We just tried to stick with it. We said coming in here, we kind of drew a line in the sand and we hadn't got the performance or the finishes the last three weeks that we felt like the car had speed-wise. We made some changes coming into this race aerodynamically to try to help the car, which I believe hurt it pretty bad in traffic, but it's hard to tell unless you bring it to the track.
           
"We know where we missed it on that, and we just tried to keep ourselves in position and keep focused and try to keep him [Larson] in the best situation that we could on tires compared to the guys around him. We put four on, and the cautions fell like we needed them to, and we were able to get two restarts on the outside.
           
"He drove his butt off there at the end. We had a pretty bad start to -- the first start of the race was probably the worst restart he's had all year, but I definitely would say that the one at the end was probably the best one he's had. When it all counted and the cards were on the table, we were able to execute and come out of here with a finish better than what the car was capable of running, and you're going to win championships that way.
           
"You know, it was a line in the sand, and we'll start over again and go into Bristol, which is going to be a really good track for us, and just start executing races before the last 10 start," Johnston said.

Johnston and his crew set up his car and executed great pit stops, which meant that the rest was up to Larson, especially when it came to the final restart when Larson decided to make it four-wide for a second or two.

"It was just business as normal. We leave it up to him. He's obviously the guy behind the wheel. He's more than capable of making those decisions of what the best move is going to be, way more capable than I am. We just told him that he was on the best tires of everybody in front of him. We tried to give him information that's going to at least make him feel like he's at an advantage, but at the end of the day, that's all him. I mean, we didn't play a part in that. We just put him in position, and he was able to make the restart and put the 78 in a bad spot, and we had fresher tires. I mean, it was pretty straightforward," Johnston explained.

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Now that the No. 42 team has all but clinched their spot in the playoffs, how will Johnston keep the team focused on the final few races of the regular season before transitioning their focus to the playoff races?

"We've got a great group of guys, and we go into each week trying to win the race, so that's what we're going to do. We're going to celebrate this tonight, and then Monday we're going to re-rack and work on our Bristol stuff, and we're going to go there guns a-blazing, and we're usually pretty fast there and can lead some laps, and I think we learned a lot on how to adjust the car as the race goes, and we're going to try to put three more wins together and see if we can't gain some bonus points and close that gap to the 78 car," Johnston said.

This was the third consecutive Michigan fall race that Larson has won. If the car hadn't been up to par when they unloaded, would Johnston have consulted his notes from previous Michigan races?

"... the sport and the cars evolved so quickly that if you brought back what you won with the previous time here, you'd be lucky to run fifth or sixth with it. You're always constantly trying to make your cars better. Yeah, definitely the good thing about it is there's only a few things that we change, so it's pretty easy to backtrack on where we missed it. But you can rely on your notes from the last time, but you've got to bring something better each and every time that you come or you're not going to be able to compete with the guys that you want to compete with," Johnston explained.

Whether they could have given Larson the best car possible is almost irrelevant.

"To me he's the best talent out there, and if we can put him in position, I think you're going to get that outcome 99 percent of the time. The thing for us is just to give him a car that's fast enough that he can go out there and do what we all know that he can do. I'm sure everybody realized the talent that he has way before that, but that definitely proves that you can never count him out, and he stuck with it and he kept his head, and we were able to steal a victory, but nonetheless, it's still a victory," Johnston said.

You can bet that Johnston will continue to provide Larson with cars that the driver will try to get to Victory Lane before moving on to the playoffs.


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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; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.




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