Jimmie Johnson Starts 2010 With DNF in Daytona 500
Instead of sitting on top of his pit box trying to help his driver Jimmie Johnson win, Knaus and his No. 48 team members had already loaded Johnson's Chevrolet Impala inside the transporter for the trip back to the shop in North Carolina.
Moments earlier, when he walked out of the team's hauler, he was asked if it was true that a bad wheel bearing was the reason Johnson had dropped from contention.
"Something like that," said Knaus, and he wasn't in a mood to say anything more.
A DNF was not the kind of start to the 2010 season that the four-time Sprint Cup champion team was expecting. The last time the team did not finish a race was in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway last April, almost 10 months ago.
Johnson's terminal troubles in the 52nd running of 'The Great American Race' started as he crossed the start/finish line with 16 laps to go in the 200-lap race. The blue and white No. 48 dropped to the inside line and out of the wild pack of cars before limping back to pit road.
Initially, Johnson screamed over the radio that he had a flat right-rear tire thanks to the problems with the track surface but when he brought the car to pit road, the problems proved to be deeper. Ron Malec, the No. 48 crew member in the garage area surveying the car and preparing it for loading back on the hauler while the race roared on, diagnosed the problem as a bad wheel bearing.
It turns out Johnson was really just trying to help his cause.
"When I thought I had a flat tire I was screaming 'the hole is really big!' hoping we'd a caution," said Johnson with a laugh as briskly walked from the garage and to his motorhome. "I was just looking for something."
The race, won by Jamie McMurray, featured two major stoppages -- highly uncharacteristic for any NASCAR event -- thanks to a pothole that developed in the pavement between turns 1 and 2.
Was that the cause of Johnson's problems?
"The track's pretty rough," Malec said standing next to the driver's side of Johnson's car. "It beats everything up."
Even Johnson was unsure.
"It's hard to say," said Johnson. "I don't think so. We'd been hitting it with the right side tires and something in the left side broke, so I don't think it was that."
Johnson finished the day-night affair credited with a 35th-place finish -- not what he was looking for at the start of his campaign for a fifth-straight Sprint Cup championship.
Earlier in the race, Johnson had faced a tire problem that threatened to end his day even sooner. The right-front tire tore apart and damaged the sheet metal around it, but his crew fixed the damage and Johnson was on the lead lap and appeared headed to the front when the new problems hit just laps from the finish.