If Jimmie Johnson is looking to rebound in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Phoenix International Raceway is the perfect place for him to do so.
Johnson finished ninth last Sunday at Texas and fell 33 points behind new leader Denny Hamlin, who won the race. It's the first time that Johnson has not been atop the point standings since 2005, when Tony Stewart claimed his second Cup championship.
"It's not where we want to be, but there's a lot of racing left," Johnson said.
Perhaps the biggest storyline heading into Phoenix this weekend is the pit crew swap of Jimmie Johnson's No.48 team and Jeff Gordon's No.24 squad for the final two races of the season.
Hendrick Motorsports announced the change one day after Johnson's crew struggled on their pit stops during the 500-mile race at Texas. After Gordon was involved in an accident ... and a fight ... with Jeff Burton, Gordon's crew moved over to the No.48 pit area and took over responsibilities from there.
"It was a difficult decision, for sure," Knaus said during a press conference held at the HMS shop in Concord, N.C., on Tuesday. "There's always emotions involved, but I think that everybody has to realize is, when we set up this team, it was a one-team situation. That's what we are and always have been.
"We've had crew members from the 24 pit for the 48, and we've had crew members from the 48 pit for the 24. It's always been like that, and we're going to continue to work that way."
The change is limited to the seven primary over-the-wall members of the respective pit crews, and roles of additional team personnel are not affected.
Gordon is no longer in championship contention following his 37th-place finish at Texas.
During Hamlin's post-race news conference, his crew chief, Mike Ford, said that he thought the switch of crews midway through the race was an act of "desperation."
Knaus disagreed with Ford's assumption.
"I don't think it's an act of desperation by any stretch of the imaginations; it's an act of what we got to do to try and win the race," Knaus said.
Johnson has been the dominant driver at Phoenix lately, winning four of the last six races here. He has finished no worse than seventh in the previous 10 races at Phoenix.
Last year, Johnson finished a season-worst 38th at Texas and saw his points lead over Mark Martin shrink from 184 points to 73, but Johnson bounced back by winning at Phoenix and then went on to clinch his unprecedented fourth straight championship with a fifth-place finish one week later at Homestead, FL.
Kevin Harvick also has had a great deal of success at Phoenix, with two Sprint Cup wins, as well as four Camping World Truck and one Nationwide Series victories here.
Harvick is 59 points in back of Hamlin after finishing sixth at Texas.
"We are still in this thing, and we are definitely looking forward to Phoenix," Harvick said.
Hamlin has yet to win at Phoenix, but has finished sixth or better in four of the last five races here. He finished 30th in this year's spring race, which took place one and a half weeks after his surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee.
"We still know going into Phoenix that it's a great racetrack for both of those guys [Johnson and Harvick], and it's been a very up-and-down racetrack for me," Hamlin said. "We've got to go there with our guns loaded and see if we can't get another win. I'm going to race like we need to win from here on out. I've been saying with three to go, I was going to be a little bit more aggressive."
The last time the points leader with two races remaining failed to win the series championship occurred in 1992, when Bill Elliott relinquished an 85- point advantage to Alan Kulwicki.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kobalt Tools 500.