How will Jimmie do without Chad?

March, 1, 2012
03/01/12
7:24
PM ET

With the news that Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, was suspended six races, not to mention a serious hit to the wallet and a points reduction that leaves you and I with more points than Johnson entering the weekend, it begs the question how it'll affect Johnson's on-track performance.

Luckily we do have some history of Johnson's performance without Knaus on the box, although Knaus is still active in the shop.

In 2006 and 2007, Knaus was suspended by NASCAR for rules violations. In 2006, Johnson spent the first four races with Darian Grubb as his crew chief and won two of those.

In those four races, Johnson had a 2.5 average finish and an average driver rating of 114.1. In the final 32 races with Knaus, Johnson's numbers weren't quite as good, with a 10.6 average finish and 100.4 driver rating.

Johnson also won "only" three of the 32 races that season with Knaus as his crew chief.

In 2007, Knaus was suspended due to rules violations found at Sonoma, and Johnson struggled more with Ron Malec as his crew chief, with a 21 average finish and 99.3 driver rating.

However, you can't point the finger at Malec for that performance, as Johnson wrecked out of two of the four races, and he had led 82 laps at Chicago before wrecking out and finishing 37th. In the races Johnson finished with Malec as crew chief, he had an average finish of fourth.

There might not be a better site than Phoenix for Johnson to start his time without Knaus. Johnson has won four times at Phoenix while no other driver in Sprint Cup Series history has won there more than twice. Johnson's average finish of 5.4 trails only Alan Kulwicki's 5.2 mark in track history.

But Johnson is coming off his worst career race at Phoenix.

Going into November's Chase race at Phoenix, Johnson had a 121.8 driver rating at the track (since NASCAR began track loop data in 2005) and a 5.4 average running position.

But in that race, Johnson put up a Phoenix career-low 71.5 driver rating and an 18.9 ARP. He also ran the fastest lap once in the race's 312 laps, after running the fastest lap in 10.5 percent of laps in the previous 13 races there.

The Eliminator: Phoenix

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make my race pick. It's pretty simple; instead of telling you why one guy will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the race winner.

1. There hasn't been a first-time winner at Phoenix since 1996 (13 drivers eliminated, 31 remaining).

2. The past 12 Phoenix winners had a previous top-5 at the track (nine eliminated, 22 remaining).

3. The past four Phoenix winners didn't win a race in the previous season (12 eliminated, 10 remaining).

4. Of the past 11 Phoenix winners, 10 had a top-14 finish in the previous Phoenix race (seven eliminated, three remaining).

5. Six of the seven spring Phoenix race winners finished in the top 10 in the last New Hampshire race, and the seventh didn't run the previous New Hampshire race (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Greg Biffle.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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