KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After opening Friday’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Kansas Speedway with a mock qualifying run, Jimmie Johnson brought his No. 48 Chevrolet to the garage with smoke billowing from the cowling between the hood and windshield.
Visually, Johnson’s problem was reminiscent of the issue Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne experienced at Phoenix in the fourth race weekend of the season, except that Kahne’s was much more severe and prolonged.
“It appears the No. 48 got into a similar condition that the No. 5 (Kahne) got into at Phoenix; and when it did that, it pumped some oil up into the intake manifold, and that’s where the smoke came from,” explained Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt.
But Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, opted not to change the engine in the No. 48 prior to Saturday night’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1), a decision supported by the HMS engine operations brain trust.
“Based on the experience we had with Kasey’s engine in Phoenix, we felt comfortable checking the engine over, running it, getting the oil out of the top of the engine, and sending him back out,” Duchardt said.
“Jimmie went back out during practice. We will continue to monitor, and we have no plans on changing the engine at this time.”
In fact, after Johnson ran the engine in the garage for more than two minutes, with smoke pouring out of the exhaust as the oil burned off, he returned to the track and improved from 14th to fourth in qualifying trim during one of the final runs of Happy Hour.
With three victories, three poles and 16 top 10s in 19 starts at Kansas, Johnson is one of the pre-race favorites in Saturday’s Go Bowling 400. He qualified 15th Friday.