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Johnson overcomes crash, posts top-10 at Kansas

October 21, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson's pit crew got the No. 48 car back on the track quickly after his wreck during Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 (Getty Images).

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Despite repeated reassurances from his crew chief Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson knew his car had been pretty banged up in a crash midway through Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

But even he didn't realize the extent of the damage until he climbed out of the black, blue and bruised No. 48 Lowe's Chevy on pit road following a dogged and dramatic ninth-place finish that salvaged his Sprint Cup championship hopes. It keeps him only seven points behind leader Brad Keselowski as the series heads to Martinsville, Va. next week, where Johnson has six wins in his career.

Johnson's competitors couldn't believe his dented-in, taped up; bondo-reinforced Chevy was capable of a top-10 either. At one point, Keselowski actually asked his crew if Johnson had really been in a wreck because the car was still so competitive.

"This was big,'' Johnson allowed. "And that's what truthfully we didn't like about our attitude and execution at the end of last year. When things got a little trying for us, we didn't communicate and work as we needed to. Today we executed.''

"I'm just now getting a chance to look at the damage on the car and it's pretty severe. One, I'm impressed that they fixed it as they did. ... two, I'm surprised the car was as fast as it was."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

Then he turned over his shoulder to survey his car.

"I'm just now getting a chance to look at the damage on the car and it's pretty severe,'' Johnson said. "One, I'm impressed that they fixed it as they did. .. two, I'm surprised the car was as fast as it was.''

In fact, the five-time Sprint Cup champ Johnson was turning his fastest laps of the race in the closing 10 laps long after a well-orchestrated, slightly frantic effort by his crew to repair the car without even losing a lap in his Turn 4 crash on lap 137.

"Unbelievable, 'Johnson's team owner Rick Hendrick declared.

"I have never in my 30 years of racing seen anybody perform that kind of surgery and not lose a lap. I basically thought our deal was over, we probably wouldn't get back out there.

"That was truly amazing and I think that says it all what the 48-team is about with Chad's [Knaus] leadership.''

The quick repairs and tenacious attitude prevented Johnson from losing a single point on Keselowski, who finished eighth.

Denny Hamlin, who finished 13th Sunday, now trails Keselowski by 20 points. Both his day and Johnson's were complicated by an untimely caution period -- one of a record 14 yellow flags that slowed and hampered the race. Johnson had just pit when the caution flag came out on lap 123 and crashed a few laps later while negotiating back through traffic. Hamlin had been caught on pit road.

"Nobody could pass anyone after five laps on the restart, so you do the best you can for five laps to pass guys and then you just ride around in circles until someone blows a tire,'' a frustrated Hamlin said after the race.

"We got caught twice [on caution flags] and our car sucked, so those two things attributed to a 13th place finish.''

"This is a race where when you got the other guys you're racing [for a championship] finishing eighth and ninth, you've got to beat them -- especially wrecked race cars shouldn't be up there. So we just shot ourselves in the foot a lot today.''

And despite the valiant comeback, Johnson's team felt similarly. They were as upset about the mistake and missed opportunity as they were happy with the recovery.

"I really hate to miss an opportunity to get points on Brad on a mile and a half track,'' Johnson said. "That's a strong suit and they're good on them. Today we had a fast car I think could have gotten some points on them so I'm disappointed in that, but at the same time, with all we went through to finish and have it all be even [on points], that's pretty rad.

Knaus took it even further.

"I really think we had a car that could have won the race,'' he said. "But I couldn't be prouder of Jimmie. It's real easy for a driver to lose his confidence and not got back out there and drive as hard as he needs to, but it just shows he's the best out there.

"We knew we had a good race car. And the guys did a great job.''

"I've been doing this a long time,'' Knaus said with a smile. "We've had a lot of races like this. This 48-team I don't know if we're really good or really dumb because we never give up trying.

"Jimmie's no dummy, he knew it was damaged but when you sit back and look at it, really no vital parts were damaged. I felt very confident he'd be able to drive it.''

As he drove under the checkered flag, Johnson apologized again to his crew on the radio and Knaus chalked it up as a mulligan -- noting it could have been a lot more costly.

"We'll definitely dissect [what happened], we need to learn from our mistakes,'' Knaus said. "But it's pretty easy to put this behind us because we're going to Martinsville.

"And obviously we walk into Martinsville with a lot of confidence. We look forward to getting there.''