MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson said it’s “crazy” to suggest his reputation has been tarnished by crew chief Chad Knaus’ instructions to mess up the rear bumper if he won at Talladega (Ala.) last week.
Knaus was recorded telling the five-time defending champion that if he won, he needed to “crack the back of the car,” apparently to build an explanation in case the car did not past postrace inspection. The website SBnation.com says it obtained the recording from a fan.
On the recording, Knaus is heard telling Johnson: “If we win this race, you have to crack the back of the car. Got it?”
“Really?” Johnson replies, sounding surprised. He said Friday that Knaus had never made a similar request before.
“Yes,” Knaus replies. “Got it? You don’t have to have to hit it hard, you don’t have to destroy it. But you’ve gotta do a donut and you’ve gotta hit the back end, or somebody’s gotta hit you in the (back) or something. OK?”
Knaus said earlier in the week he made the request to protect Johnson in case 500 miles of driving on the superspeedway had knocked the body of the car out of alignment, possibly making it susceptible to failing inspection.
“At the end of the day, while Chad was trying to protect himself postrace, he made a foolish statement. That’s really it,” Johnson said Friday.
He laughed at the notion his reputation was damaged when the conversation was made public, adding the story has “no bearing” on his team’s accomplishments.
“Everybody in this garage area knows what this team has done to win these five championships,” he said. “And our car, with the success we’ve had over the years, has been through the R&D center far more than any other race car. And when we’ve been out of line, we’ve been put in place.”
Johnson was won 37 races in his five title-winning seasons and this year.
He stands seventh in the Chase for the championship this year and is 50 points behind leader Carl Edwards. Johnson finished 26th at Talladega in a race won by Clint Bowyer.
Johnson and Knaus met with NASCAR President Mike Helton, Vice President Robin Pemberton and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby on Friday at the track, and series spokesman Kerry Tharp said NASCAR made it clear that “we’re very serious” about the integrity of inspections.
“As the governing body, we just felt like we were doing our due diligence to look into this and gain as much insight as we could about the comments that (Knaus) made prerace,” Tharp said.