News & Media

No. 48 dominating from front to back

August 04, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Drivers talking about rear end of Johnson, Hendrick cars as they dominate tracks

LONG POND, Pa. -- Drivers have long been accustomed to looking at Jimmie Johnson's rear bumper.

"Creatively, the [Hendrick] guys are really smart ... [But] sometimes, I think some of [the car advantage] comments are made just because people are getting beat and they don't like it ..."


But, lately, there's a bit more about the back of No. 48 Chevrolet that's grabbing their attention. It's the angle of that rear bumper in the turns -- a little extra yaw that seems to be providing a big advantage for the five-time champion.

Whatever the Hendrick Motorsports team of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have found, the benefits were evident last week at Indianapolis where they had a dominant car.

"Whatever they've got working in the back of the cars is working well for them," said Denny Hamlin after qualifying his Joe Gibbs Toyota second behind Juan Montoya for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. It was Hamlin who called Johnson's tail end into question at Indianapolis.

"There's something different. It's up to us to identify it and figure it out and get better. They've done their homework. It paid dividends last week and I'm sure it will this week."

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski, winner of three races this season, says he sees the parity that existed early in the season vanishing.

"If what we saw at Indy continues along, I think that parity will cease and desist," Keselowski said. "We've all got to keep working to try to catch back up to how they've moved the ball forward.

"I think they deserve credit for it [at Hendrick]. It's a smart group of people over there, so the onus is on us to evolve our cars to the next level -- not just to catch them but to move back in front of them."

Johnson felt he had a shot at the pole at Pocono, but settled for the 10th-fastest qualifying time on Saturday.

"The car was awesome. I made a huge mistake, so I'm pretty disappointed in myself for being so aggressive -- driving too hard," Johnson said.

Hamlin predicts Johnson will be faster on Sunday.

"It looked like in race trim that he was one of the top guys we had to beat, so I'm sure, with no exception, he'll be there when we start up tomorrow," Hamlin said.

Hamlin and Keselowski aren't the only drivers who have taken notice of Johnson's yaw.

"We are working hard on trying to figure out what they are doing," Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle said. "We have a little of it -- maybe not what they had -- but our own version of our rear suspension. We learned a little bit at Indy and learned some more at Michigan. I think we are gaining on what they have."

Jeff Gordon insists all technical notes are being shared, company-wide at Hendrick and RCR driver Kevin Harvick says points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. is also benefiting.

"All the Hendrick cars have more yaw than the whole field," Harvick said. "They have done a good job doing some R&D to get the things that they need. But that didn't just happen last week. That has been going on for several weeks. That is what this sport is all about -- finding an advantage and making it work on the race track. They have done that."

Whether it's about the sway bar or rear-end bushings or a little bit of magic, Tony Stewart said he doesn't think the No. 48 team is bending the rules to get its car to swing low through the turns.

"They're not doing anything that's illegal," Stewart said. "They're doing everything within the rules. So, it's just about whatever package you're running that's working for you."

Gordon said he's proud of what the guys behind the scenes at Hendrick are doing, but that any rear-end advantage Johnson is enjoying might be more perception than reality.

"Creatively, the guys are really smart and they are coming up with some things that are making our cars stand out and do things, balance-wise, that we are looking for," Gordon said. "I don't think we are head-and-shoulders above anybody. I just think that we've got things that are working well for us.

"Sometimes, I think some of those comments are made just because people are getting beat and they don't like it and want to try to bring attention to something that is probably not there."