NOTEBOOK: Jimmie Johnson relishes his role as Chase frontrunner
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Jimmie Johnson admits there's added stress in being the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader, but the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wouldn't have it any other way.
Johnson seized the lead -- albeit a narrow one -- by winning last Sunday's Cup race at Martinsville from the pole. With three races left in the Chase, Johnson is two points ahead of Brad Keselowski and 26 in front of third-place Clint Bowyer.
"I think there's more pressure on the points leader, but there's more control as the points leader," Johnson said Friday before the first Cup practice session at Texas Motor Speedway. "Just a week ago, I was sitting there seven back thinking, 'OK, if I got two (points) a weekend or if I got three a weekend,' or how you play that game.
"Right now I don't have to think about that. There's the pressure to maintain, but I would much rather be leading the points than be anywhere else. "
"OLD MAN, EH?"
Crew chief Tony Gibson is accustomed to calling his drivers "old man" on the radio. The team made light of it when Gibson was working with 50-something Mark Martin.
It might now work so well, however, in Gibson's new capacity as Danica Patrick's crew chief, a role that starts with the AAA Texas 500 Cup race this weekend and will continue next season.
Gibson said Friday that he's not sure how or why he uses that expression.
"I don't know -- it slips out," Gibson said Friday at Texas. "I don't really know why I say that. For years it's just been what I say. I'm not sure where that came from, to be honest with you."
"I don't mind," Patrick said agreeably.
"If I do say that, I'm sorry, and I don't mean it," Gibson told Patrick. "I was Mark Martin's crew chief and everybody is like 'Man, that is really insulting to him.' I'm like, 'I have no idea. I don't realize I'm saying it to him.'
"It was a big joke. I was the crew chief for Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and it was the same way. I don't know. It just comes out so I'm probably going to say it a few times, but if I do, I'm sorry -- forgive me. As long as we're successful, we can call each other what we want to."
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will use Hendrick Motorsports engines to power its Cup cars next year, ending a four-year relationship with Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines.
Team owner Richard Childress, who confirmed Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's departure, was optimistic the move would have little impact on his ECR engine operation, which is based at the RCR campus in Welcome, N.C.
"It won't be any change," said Childress, who also supplies engines to Furniture Row Racing in the Cup series. "We've got other customers (who have) come in… I think they (Earnhardt Ganassi) had been dealing with Hendrick for a while. It wasn't a surprise."
Childress said the engine program is as good as it ever was.
"We just hired two new EFI (electronic fuel injection) people, and it's still growing. We do all of the (General Motors) DP (Daytona Prototype) engines and a lot of dirt engines. We've still got a very strong company."