Asked where the 48 team’s season started to turn around, Chad Knaus points to the Brickyard as being where they began their run to the championship finale.
Speaking to the media during a teleconference earlier today, the crew chief of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was questioned about, given the early season success and run of poor performance by his team and the entire Hendrick organization during the summer, when he felt the performance of his team started to level up to the point that they could compete for the championship.
“I think about Indianapolis was the turning point for the 48 car,” Knaus said. “Now, albeit we didn’t have very good finishes throughout the summer months, that’s not necessarily indicative of how we raced. We had some very strong performances, much like I said at Indianapolis. Were we as fast as the guys that were perfectly up front? No, not really, but we were running in the top-five and we passed a lot of cars there, so I think that was a great start for us.
“Pocono we had some good races, so on and so forth. Once again, I don’t know that we had the finishing results that we wanted, but we were starting to show signs of performance. Once we got a little bit later into the season, Darlington showed up, Michigan, tracks like that, we really started to put some finishes together and some very, very strong performances.
“So I think about that time of the year.”
Despite four wins on the season and competing for a record-tying seventh championship this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, this season for Jimmie Johnson will end up being statistically one of his most under-performed seasons. A finish less than fifth would make 2016 the season with the second-fewest top-fives of his career. He’ll also finish the season with both less than 20 top-10’s for the first time in his career and less than half of his finishes being top-10 finishes. A lead lap finish this weekend would avoid this season having the fewest lead lap finishes since his rookie season.
During the six-race stretch from Pocono Raceway to New Hampshire Motor Speedway during June and July of this season, Johnson posted finishes of 35th, 16th, 13th, 35th, 32nd and 12th, which amounted to a 23.8 finishing average. Three of his four DNF’s on the season came during that six-race stretch.
The entire Hendrick organization was under-performing during this stretch. There were weeks where none of the Hendrick cars finished inside the top-10.
To make matters worse, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was ruled out medically halfway through the season due symptoms of a concussion that stemmed from his wreck at Michigan International Speedway. Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon have split time, with Bowman taking a slightly larger share, driving the No. 88 car the latter half of the season.
Even rookie Chase Elliott, who was the most consistent of any HMS driver for much of the season, started to slip in performance in the summer months to the point that his Chase hopes went from a sure thing to questionable.
Knaus made no bones about the lack of speed through the summer months at HMS. He discussed how all the crew chiefs banded together to work the problem out and that, he believes, is what solved their dilemma.
“But yeah, it’s no secret that we were not performing the way we wanted to throughout the bulk of the season as a company, so we all buckled down,” he added. “I think the crew chiefs have put their heads together very well, and really started to work well together. Not that we weren’t before, but we just did it with more vigor than what we had in the past, and I think that’s a direct reason why we have the results that we do now. I think all of our teams are running great. I think at one time, Sunday, last week, we were first, second, third and fifth, I think, so the best showing we have had in a race competitively like that in a while.
“I think everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is doing a great job of pushing our performance and making that a priority, and it should carry on, I hope, into next season.