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It’s here. The 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship and the quest for a sixth title – or “Six Pack,” as the No. 48 Lowe’s team has named its goal for the season.
It’s a quest Jimmie Johnson and the team are ready for after a month marred by their worst streak of finishes in history – 40th, 36th, 28th and 40th. The goal this weekend is a win at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., one of five tracks on which Johnson has yet to win. Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the others.
Crew chief Chad Knaus cut his racing teeth up the road in Rockford, Ill., where he served as crew chief for his father John as they traveled the Midwest short-track circuit. In 1986, the father-son duo won the Rockford Speedway Late Model championship.
Now paired with another championship-winning driver, Knaus and five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson are focused on crossing the 1.5-mile track located just southwest of Chicago off the list of tracks where they’ve never won a Sprint Cup race. Johnson did win a Nationwide Series race at the Chicagoland in 2001 while running for Herzog Motorsports.
Knaus and Johnson will do what they can to change their luck in the sport’s premiere series at the track where they’ve finished outside the top-10 just twice in 11 starts – July 2007 and 2010. They have six top-five finishes in all and, after last year’s pole run and runner-up finish, there’s reason to be optimistic that the string of winless finishes will come to end at Chicagoland.
The team starts the Chase as the second seed for the fifth time in the 10 years the format has been used to decide the champion. And while it’s certainly better than third or fourth, the easiest path to collect what the No. 48 Lowe’s team covets is to be first after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Let the Chase begin for the No. 48 team’s coveted “Six Pack.”
Here’s what Johnson had to say heading into Chicago:
What’s your outlook for Chicago?
“We have been close so many times at Chicago. We always run well there. I don’t know what it is. We just haven’t gotten the win. I think it’s one of five tracks we haven’t won at. It’s got a little more significance for us, too, since Chad (Knaus, crew chief) is from the area. We really want to get a win for him. Like I said, we’ve been close. Hopefully, we can seal the deal this weekend. It would obviously be a great way to start the Chase.”
Are you concerned about momentum after the last four races?
“There’s always a little concern. Without a doubt, you want to enter the Chase with momentum. I think every team falls back on past history. We have won championships without momentum going into the first race. So we’re going to fall on our experience and also the experience of knowing the Chase is so different than anything else. You’re only racing 12 guys, not 43. So things change a lot. We’re going to go to a track that is very good for us. We had a tire test there earlier in the year. It went really well. I’m going to reserve any major concern or overwhelming confidence until after Chicago. I’m going to go in there with confidence that I can go out and win because I know I can. We’re going to enter nice and smooth and see how Chicago goes.”