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Johnson enjoys day after Daytona triumph

Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Johnson, Knaus celebrate a huge victory for Hendrick Motorsports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –- The impromptu “Harlem Shake” effort came long after most folks had departed Daytona International Speedway.

nascar-logoFor Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team, it was part celebration, part release.

“No broken wrist,” Johnson, now twice a winner of the Sprint Cup Series’ biggest event, confessed. “I survived.”

“I took part in it, we all did,” admitted crew chief Chad Knaus as he, Johnson and team owner Rick Hendrick were honored during the annual Daytona 500 champion’s breakfast on Monday. “That was fun. It was very impromptu.”

“One of the pit crew guys jumped up and (said), ‘Man, let’s do the Harlem Shake!’ I was like, ‘alright, well, let’s see if we can get this thing rolling,” Knaus said.

“We found a photographer from somewhere; poorguy, I don’t even know where this guy came from. He was on a motorcycle, he went back and got his tripod; it was funny to say the least.”

Despite what you might have heard, Johnson, a five-time champion, likes to have fun. Knaus, a five-time champ atop the pit box, isn’t so consumed with his work that he can’t enjoy the moment as well. Maybe it wasn’t TMZ worthy, but it wasn’t sitting in the motorcoach working the day’s crossword puzzle either.

“People don’t understand what this team’s about; we’re serious racers,” Knaus said. “We … race to win. When we have the opportunity, we have a good time. That’s the way this team’s always been and always will be. Jimmie is a guy that likes to have fun, I like to have a lot of fun, but when it’s time to get to work, we work.”

It would be more believable if one were to learn that it is Hendrick, the successful owner, who tends to the temperature and temperament of the No. 48 team. At times, that has been the case. But success has taught Johnson and Knaus much about themselves as well as their team. Now, it could just as easily be one or the other that eases the concerns of the owner.

Knaus, who announced on Monday that he recently got engaged, may put in as many hours as ever, but he’s also learned to delegate, doling out responsibilities while keeping his fingerprints all over the team.

“That’s something he needed to do because if you’re on the chip all the time you burn yourself out,” Hendrick said. “He’s accepted that; as a matter of fact I’ve seen him at times when I was upset at things that happened, he’d be calm and cool, keep the guys all together. He’s been able to handle the pressure, the success and the failure. That’s part of life. … He’s always been a leader and a hard worker, but he’s refining those skills now.”

Johnson has done his part as well, and not just by continuing to win. While restrictor-plate racing has been his Achilles’ heel of late (his last top five in the 500 was his victory in ’06), his confidence was undisturbed. He needed no pep talk from his car owner as the season-opening race approached.

“No, I think it was almost the reverse,” Hendrick said. “We had dinner the night before and I think he pumped me up. He said, ‘We’re going to win this race’ and I said ‘I hope we can finish the race.’

“I think he was really excited about it; I think all of us were excited that we got to start the (race) with our (Daytona) 500 cars. That was a goal and we got to do that.”

While Knaus and the rest of the team head back to Charlotte to continue preparations for this week’s trip to Phoenix for race No. 2, Johnson will be making the rounds, sprinting off to New York, Connecticut (home of ESPN), Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas – where sponsor Lowe’s is hosting its international sales meeting.

But this year’s win, and the celebration that followed, won’t soon be forgotten.

“Last night was a fun moment,” Johnson said. “…All of a sudden there was a transporter, music, a camera guy … we even had some surprise guests with (Washington Nationals) Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, two baseball players, that were in the mix.

“Baseball players take it to a whole new level, I can tell you that.”

“I’m not going to lie,” Knaus said, adding he has concerns about his driver “all the time.”

Johnson suffered a broken wrist after he fell off the top of a golf cart during an outing shortly after winning his first Cup title in 2006.

“I did have some flashbacks of the broken wrist, on top of the golf cart, all that,” Knaus said. “But we were keeping everybody in check pretty good.”

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