Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has a number of tracks on the circuit at which he truly looks forward to racing.
Bristol Motor Speedway is not one of them.
Despite a win there in 2010, the Lowe’s Chevrolet driver said he returns to Thunder Valley this weekend in survival mode, just hoping to emerge from this weekend's Food City 500 with his race car still in one piece.
“I just want to survive this place,” admitted Johnson, who has an average finish of just 15.2 in his 24 career Bristol starts. “We did get a win in 2010, we have been able to run consistently in the Top-5 five (and) that is truthfully our goal. This track really is difficult on me and Chad and the team through practice and qualifying. Then, in the race, we seem to find our way.
“A lot of that falls on my shoulders,” said Johnson. “I feel like this track takes a repetition of laps to find a rhythm and find the half a tenth or so that I need to really be in the game. We will try to keep aggravation and frustration to a minimum (and) I know that we will be able to get out there and run well.”
Johnson stands third in the 2014 championship chase, 16 points behind teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and said he is not concerned with being winless so far in 2014.
|"I just want to survive this race"|
“I haven’t put much thought into it,” he said. “The main reason is that 16 (drivers) transfer, and it’s pretty rare that we have 16 different winners in the course of a season. So points still have a pretty big impact on where you are at. I’m happy that we are third in points.
“I feel like we had a shot to win in Vegas. Midway through the race, the balance of the car changed. We found something wrong with the car that was pretty rare and unique for us. So we know where our speed went. I feel like we had a shot to win the (Daytona) 500, so we have had two chances to win and a bunch of Top-6 finishes.
“There is nothing to be concerned about yet. The year is early and I feel like at least one or two positions will go in via points.”
Johnson said he expects the fast lane will once again be on the top of the race track, raising the likelihood of contact between cars.
“There definitely is a bump-and-run factor (at Bristol)” he said. “If someone is a lap down car or not racing (you) for position, a little tap on the straightaway usually wakes up whoever is in front of you. They will cut you some slack. If it’s for position, I wouldn’t anticipate anybody to pull down and get out of the way. You are just going to have to go to work the hard way and try to get by.”
Johnson said he is uncomfortable with that more aggressive style, and admitted that he sometimes finds himself at a disadvantage on tracks like Bristol as a result.
“Some drivers have grown up in stock cars and in environments where you use the bumper to move someone,” Johnson said. “It’s second nature. It’s not the environment that I came out of and I think the same for Kasey (Kahne). If you go through his background and the types of cars he raced, you don’t bump. You don’t touch.
“I have found personally that it takes me longer to set up a bump and run. It’s a delicate touch to get in there and move somebody in the right way. I waste more time doing that than it (would take) to get inside to try to pass them. There are some guys that are comfortable and used to it. If I have to (bump someone), I will.
“But I am probably going to be saying, `I’m sorry’ after.”