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It’s a common phrase used when describing NASCAR restrictor-plate races – “wreckers or checkers.” The driver and his racecar either take the checkered flag and head to victory lane, or the racecar ends up on a wrecker, having been collected in whatever late-race chaos that typically occurs at these tracks.
Johnson is most familiar with the “wreckers” scenario of late, having failed to finish a points-paying plate race last year. In addition, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads next for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 restrictor-plate race, ranks as Johnson’s worst track in the NASCAR driver rating system.
There is a bright side for the five-time champion, who also has two wins (April 2006 and 2011) at the 2.66 mile superspeedway. He scored a victory in this year’s season opening Daytona 500, the sport’s biggest race of the year. Another good sign is Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus enjoys the Alabama track. The Illinois native worked for Stanley Smith just down the road in Chelsea early in his career.
But a little luck never hurts at Talladega, where attrition is high. In last year’s October race there, Johnson had a shot to finish his first restrictor-plate race of the year in his fourth attempt when a last-lap accident derailed his efforts.
With good fortune already having struck for him at a restrictor-plate track, could Johnson reverse his 2012 results and go from wreckers to checkers this weekend? Stranger things have happened at Talladega, for sure.
Talk about racing at Talladega.
Jimmie Johnson: “Well, it’s nice that we finished a plate race earlier this year (won the Daytona 500). Our record last year wasn’t great. We didn’t finish one race, so our luck had to change at some point. Wouldn’t it be great if we did the opposite this year and won every plate race (laughs)? Don’t think that’s going to happen but Chad (Knaus, crew chief) always gives me a great car here, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the Lowe’s Chevy this weekend.”
Chad Knaus: “I honestly love going to Talladega. It’s a great racetrack and one I remember from my childhood. I used to come here with Stanley Smith years and years and years ago. And we would focus so much effort into this racetrack. Superspeedway racing is probably what got me my start in motorsports, so I really do look forward to coming back to Talladega.” (In 1991, Knaus worked as a mechanic and fabricator for Stanley Smith Motorsports, which was based in nearby Chelsea, Ala.)