What were Jimmie and Chad thinking?

August, 17, 2009
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Carl Edwards was leaving the Sprint Cup garage late Sunday afternoon when he passed Jimmie Johnson, who lost yet another race when he ran out of gas in the final laps at Michigan International Speedway. "I almost felt sorry for you," Edwards said with a smile. "But then I didn't."

Neither did I.

Johnson arguably is the best driver in Cup today. He has won three straight championships and has to be considered the favorite to win a fourth straight. Chad Knaus arguably is the best crew chief in the garage. He deserves much of the credit for Johnson's success.

But if they're both so great, why do they keep making stupid mistakes on fuel mileage? They've gambled and lost three times this season -- twice at Michigan and once at Pocono. They weren't even that close in two of those, with Johnson almost three laps short Sunday.

Johnson admittedly has won only one fuel-mileage race in his career and that he's not great at saving fuel.

So with those odds, you'd think they'd wise up and try something else, such as outdriving everybody else as they've done for most of the past six seasons.

This was debated with a couple of fellow scribes over an adult beverage after the race. On the surface, it seemed as though the fuel-mileage gamble was worth it for Johnson and Knaus.

They weren't in danger of missing the Chase as Mark Martin and eventual race winner Brian Vickers were if they came up short. So why not go for it? Take a chance for the win and improve your seeding in the Chase when the standings are reshuffled based on wins.

Here was the conclusion: Johnson could have won without the gamble. He could have come in for a splash of gas when Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. did and likely still won the race.

Earnhardt finished third with a car that was no better than 15th to 25th most of the day. Johnson had the fastest car all afternoon, leading a race-high 133 laps, including the one on which he ran out of gas.

Surely if Earnhardt could move all the way to third while the rest were conserving fuel, Johnson could have made up the entire deficit.

So what did we conclude from this? Why did Knaus feel the need to gamble on fuel and not let a superior driver and car win on its own merit?

Maybe it was ego. Johnson and Knaus have proved to be an unbeatable combination at everything but road courses and fuel mileage. Maybe they're trying to prove they're smart enough to calculate down to the last ounce of fuel.

Maybe they shouldn't. The good news is Knaus says he wouldn't take that chance in the Chase. At least he's smart enough to realize that.

Meanwhile, I'm with Edwards. Don't feel sorry for them.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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