Johnson Stays Hot
November 3, 2003 | 2:58 P.M. EST
"We had a very strong car from the moment we unloaded on Friday," said Johnson in the media center following the race. "There were probably five or six cars in the field that were consistently posting fast lap times all weekend. So unless we made a mistake or got hung up in traffic during the race, we knew our track position would depend heavily upon our pit strategy. As usual, Chad made great calls all day and this Team Lowe's crew executed his pit strategy flawlessly."
Johnson started Sunday's race from the third position, but quickly worked his way up into the lead by lap two. He proceeded to lead the next 37 laps, before losing it to Kurt Busch following a round of pit stops during a caution on lap 38.
Over the course of the next 162 laps, Johnson battled a tight race car which kept him from mounting a charge to the front of the field. During the next several pit stops, crew chief Chad Knaus attempted to free up the Lowe's Chevy by taking several rounds out of the track bar, but to no avail. On lap 185, Johnson fell back to seventh position, the first time he ran out of the top-five all afternoon.
On lap 200, the No. 30 car spun out in turn three, bringing out the seventh caution of the day and another opportunity to loosen up the Lowe's Chevy. Even though Team Lowe's was 10 laps shy of its pit window, Knaus decided to pit and take on two tires in an effort to gain track position. The strategy paid off, as Johnson exited pit road in first place and went on to lead the next 47 laps.
"We were leading there at the end after being pretty tight in the last third of the race," said Knaus outside the No. 48 hauler. "We freed the car up and put two tires on during our last pit stop, but it took a little while for everything to settle down, pressure-wise. Unfortunately by the time things straightened out for us, the No. 8 was in Jimmie's rearview mirror. I thought he was going to be able to hold him off, but Junior was just coming on too strong and there was nothing Jimmie could really do."
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passed Johnson for the lead with 51 laps remaining in the race and stayed out front through a series of restarts in a race marred by a record-tying 10 caution flags. This was Earnhardt Jr.'s first win at a non-restrictor plate track since taking the fall race at Dover in 2001.
"I wish we could have brought home another trophy, but I just couldn't get a run on him (Earnhardt, Jr.) following those couple of restarts at the end,” said Johnson. “Looking at the big picture though, it was a great day for Team Lowe's in the points. I've been saying all along that this season is going to boil down to the teams that don't make any mistakes coming down the stretch. Last weekend, the No. 12 had some bad luck. This weekend it was the No. 29. If we stay consistent and avoid any mistakes these last two races, we'll end the season on a high note."
As a result of his second-place finish, Johnson climbed one spot to third in the standings, trailing second-place by just 13 points. Johnson's teammate, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, coming off two straight wins, finished seventh and moved to fourth in the standings, 59 points behind Johnson.
Next week, Team Lowe's Racing continues its march up the point standings as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series returns to Rockingham, N.C. for the second time this season.