As crew chief Chad Knaus reminded Jimmie Johnson late in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, sometimes it pays to look at the big picture.
Though Johnson ran in the top five most of the afternoon, the big picture on Sunday simply meant finishing the race near the front of the field. So, when Kyle Busch knifed between Johnson's #48 Chevrolet and the lapped car of Sam Hornish Jr to take the lead on lap 369, the reigning Cup Series champion wasn't concerned. And, when race runner-up Denny Hamlin grabbed the second spot a few laps later, it was still no big deal in the overall scheme of things.
“My deal wasn't to race the #18 and, even when Denny got to me, I let him go,” said Johnson, who jumped four positions to ninth in the Sprint Cup standings, the first time this season he has occupied a Chase-eligible position. “I knew I had a top-three, top-five car. I just wanted to finish this race. I wanted to see all 500 laps.
“If it was [down] to the last pit-stop, and I had a shot at it, throw caution to the wind at that point. Up until then, I needed to figure out how to run 500 laps here, finish up front. That was my goal today, and we did it."
Johnson revealed that the gameplan for Bristol had been cooked up as soon as the previous round, in Atlanta, had finished, the #48 knowing that it needed a strong result to keep tabs on those leading the point standings.
"I think, in general, we needed a weekend like this here," he admitted, "It started two weeks ago, when we went to work on the set-up for this race. We created a plan, stuck to it. Off the truck, the car was quick - we were right on par with everybody and had confidence going into qualifying. Then the weekend just kept building.
"So, now that we've executed from qualifying to the race, we have a very good starting point to come back with, and that's something we haven't had. Every time we've come back, we've been chasing one of our team-mates' ideas, then trying to put my style of set-up under it. The concept on the #24, we would use, but free it up some more. I typically like this, so let's try the #24 set-up with some more of this. We really didn't know just what we wanted.
"This weekend, though, we didn't play that game. We stuck to our guns. I feel, coming back, we'll be much better and be able to come back next weekend."
The #48 Chevy suffered a possible win-stealing glitch during the last pit-stop under caution, but the outcome wasn't as bad as Johnson feared it might have been.