Crew chief Chad Knaus isn’t overly concerned. He has seen this movie before.
“I think we’re doing pretty good,” Knaus said Wednesday morning following a speaking engagement with the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I think we had a car capable of winning (at Texas). We obviously had a car capable of winning Martinsville — we just came up a little bit short.
“Fontana, we had a car capable of winning there. Bristol, I think we had a car capable of winning there. So short a couple of tire failures and weird things, I think we’d be OK.”
Johnson is seventh in points as he and his team prepare to head to Darlington Raceway for this weekend’s Bojangle’s Southern 500. After opening the season with finishes of sixth or better in the first three races, Johnson finished 19th or worse in three of the next four. In spite of the finishes, he led 44 laps at Bristol and 104 at Auto Club Speedway — where a tire issue cost him the lead with less than 10 laps remaining.
At Texas, a large piece of metal punched a hole in the front of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet and damaged the windshield. Johnson struck the debris after teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. clipped the grass just off the racing surface on the frontstretch, then shot across the track and made hard contact with the wall.
Johnson’s crew made repairs, but a cut tire eventually put him two laps down. Unable to get back on the lead lap, he finished 25th.
“We’ve seen debris get scattered about, but man that was a pretty big piece of metal,” Knaus said of the Lap 13 incident. “It really wasn’t the windshield that created debris for us. That was a bad thing, but the windshield actually did exactly what it was supposed to do — it deflected whatever the debris was and we moved on.
“Our biggest problem was the big hole we had in the nose (of the car). Whatever put the hole in the nose was lodged inside the car. While Jimmie was running around out there, it fell out and that’s what cut the right rear tire. That’s why we lost two laps. Otherwise I think we would have been OK.”
Johnson, whose 66 career wins is No. 2 among active drivers, is a three-time winner at Darlington. He finished fourth in the race a year ago. Knaus said he is looking forward to returning to the track, often called the most difficult on the schedule.
Cup teams will have one day to do all of their on-track preparation — with two practices scheduled for Friday before qualifying at 6:05 p.m. ET.
“I like Darlington. It’s a tough track, it really is,” he said. “The schedule is even more difficult the way they’ve got it laid out, but I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s a very difficult race track, a very intense race track. Five hundred miles around that race track is extremely difficult. You don’t have an opportunity to relax and catch your breath. So it’s very taxing on the driver, but from the team’s standpoint, it’s pretty difficult, too.”