A handshake coupled with a nod is a moment of mutual understanding for a driver and a crew chief following a grueling 600-mile marathon.
And that’s exactly how Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus came together following the Coca-Cola 600 to acknowledge not only finishing the year’s longest race, but notching a top-five finish for the No. 48 team — only the second of the season for Johnson, and the first on a 1.5-mile track since his win at Texas last spring.
Those are some unusual numbers for the seven-time champion.
But Johnson is hungry for more. Much more.
“It feels good, but damn, I want to win,” Johnson said. “I’m tired of running fifth, I’m tired of running whatever it is. We got off on some adjustments today and it was amazing how sensitive the car was with some minor adjustments; the car just lost half a second. We had a hard time trying to grasp it and understand it and communicate about it.
“We put it back to the way it was and it took off and I drove right back up into the top three. Just a very small sweet spot with the car. Luckily, we finished in that sweet spot and got a good finish out of it, including a spin and we had a jack break on a stop. We had to overcome a lot tonight. Really proud of these guys. Wish that I could have got this special paint scheme into Victory Lane with the soldier we were carrying on the car today.”
Dropping out of the top 15 with less than 50 laps remaining and having to come from behind “three or four times,” Johnson regained his rhythm late and dug deep to gut out a finish he deemed worthy enough … for now.
“I had a car tonight that I could race and pass and make some stuff happen,” he said. “First time I’ve done that in a long time.”
One of the biggest obstacles the No. 48 team has dealt with — along with the other Chevrolet drivers — through the first 13 races of the season has been adjusting to the new Camaro ZL1 body. Hendrick Motorsports has been particularly under the spotlight as all four drivers have yet to lock down a Victory Lane celebration this season.
However, there have been improvements, and Johnson believes it’s only a matter of time before the team is back to its normal routine of winning — a feeling he knows quite well.
“We’re getting closer,” he said. “The No. 4 car wasn’t out there … and the No. 18 looked pretty far up there. We’ve definitely improved to the pack, I don’t know about the fastest cars. But we will go home this week and work our asses off to try and do it again.”