Jimmie Johnson admitted Friday there has been tension between himself and crew chief Chad Knaus in recent weeks but said there is a very good reason.
“We’re not happy with where we’re at, and I don’t know why we would be,” Johnson said during a news conference at Talladega Superspeedway.
Without a victory in Sunday’s GEICO 500, Johnson is in serious danger of being eliminated from title contention by being among the four Chase drivers lowest in points after Sunday’s race.
Qualifying is 4:40 p.m. Saturday.
Johnson is 12th in the series standings, 26 points behind eighth-place Kasey Kahne. As it stands now, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth would be the four drivers who fail to advance to Round 3 of the Chase.
In recent weeks, and particularly at points during last weekend’s race at Charlotte, Johnson and Knaus could be heard sniping at each other over the team radio.
“Chad and I, in our relationship, have had peaks and valleys,” Johnson said. “We’ve had times where there has been plenty of frustration on the radio. But who we are and what we are as a team and the way our relationship works and us moving forward … things are still as they have always been.
“If it isn’t fun, I’m sure people hear plenty of colorful things from drivers and crew chiefs during the course of a race.”
The recent frustration has raised questions whether the Johnson and Knaus were experiencing issues similar to those late in 2005, which nearly brought the end of their working relationship.
Thanks to a “milk and cookies” meeting with team owner Rick Hendrick, the relationship remained intact. Since then, they have won six series championships together, including five in a row at one point.
“We’ve been here before, and we don’t like it,” Johnson said. “No one likes it. We’ll keep working hard to get out of it, and past history shows that we do.
“I was thinking we were in a good position to finish well last weekend, although I don’t know if it would have changed much. We’ll take our lumps and go.”
With three victories, Johnson appeared to be in good position entering the Chase to win a NASCAR record-tying seventh series championship. A 40th-place finish at Kansas two weeks ago – when Johnson was caught up in a four-car wreck – put him in danger of being eliminated.
A 17th-place finish at Charlotte did little to improve that position and pretty much left a win as his last realistic chance to advance in the Chase.
“Depending on how this weekend goes, we’ll know what the rest of the year looks like for us,” Johnson said.
“If we don’t win, it will be in our best interest to look at 2015 and what we need to do on all fronts for the ’15 season, including the rules package. Our vision will shift at that point and try to get a head start on the field.”