Jimmie Johnson says losing the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship taught him something important about himself, his team, and the impact pressure can have on performance.
|Johnson: "I thought I was doing a good job."|
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ is currently a season-high fifth in points; 30 behind leader Matt Kenseth and 70 clear of 11th place Carl Edwards. And while he admittedly still has an eye on the Wild Card situation, he said he wants to “send a message” by pushing himself to the top of the standings.
“We’re pretty comfortable in the Wild Card situation with two wins,” he said. “But the message I want to send is that the No. 48 is here to win the championship. If we are able to lead the points and keep that lead for a period of time, that creates a bit of an advantage. It’s hard to measure, but people take notice of who’s leading, and how long they’ve been there. I hope to get up there and take control of that.
Whether or not he is able to do so, Johnson said he and crew chief Chad Knaus will likely not do much experimenting in the final few races of the regular season.
“In 2005, when we tried to get fancy and use the final few (regular season) races to test, it really bit us,” he recalled. “We tried some exotic stuff, thinking we had a good base set-up that we could go back to whenever we needed it. But we lost our rhythm, we lost our focus and we didn’t have the magic we thought we would have at the start of the Chase. When we came back to that base set-up, we discovered that all of a sudden, it was a 10th-place set-up. Everyone else had worked hard on making their stuff better, and we were left shaking our heads, wondering what had happened.
|Johnson is now fifth in points.|
“The rhythm of racing for points and wins is far more important than people realize,” said Johnson. “If you're not on top of your game, you can’t just show up for the Chase and succeed. We need to be in a race-winning mindset, at least three or four weeks before the Chase begins.”
Johnson said the pressure of chasing a sixth consecutive Sprint Cup title in 2011 took a heavy toll on him and his team, and taught them how to be better in 2012.
“Trying to keep that streak alive, I didn’t realize the pressure it exerted on me and my team,” he said. “I thought I was doing a good job managing everything, but once it was over, I realized how bad things got.
“There’s a vibe within every team, and our vibe last year was just so intense,” he said. “If we weren’t on top of the leaderboard in practice, if we had a poor qualifying effort or just didn’t have the speed we wanted, the pressure was there. We had very high expectations of ourselves and our fan base did, as well. Up through the Kansas race, I think we did a good job of managing all that. But we went to Charlotte and had a huge crash, and all of a sudden we had to scramble to make up points. We were trying to complete a Hail Mary in the final four races, and that’s just not what we’re good at.
“It’s tough to make good decisions when you put yourself under that kind of pressure,” said Johnson. “We’ve always been good at it, but last year, there was a lot more pressure than even we were used to. I think it affected our decision making process.
“This year, I can sense that we’re all much more relaxed. Some of that comes from the fact that our cars are crazy fast right now, but I think we learned last year that we need to have fun. The race track needs to be a fun place for us, and we’ve got that going on right now.”