HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series haulers pull into the garage Thursday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, they will be carrying a newly designed racecar. NASCAR’s sixth-generation racer (Gen 6) features a look that will seem familiar to many race fans. It’s a look that takes the sport back to its roots, when the Chevrolet that sat on the showroom floor had the same characteristics as the Chevrolet on the race track, albeit with a little less horsepower.
Race teams and manufacturers have spent countless hours working with NASCAR to fine tune the Gen 6 car. “Speeds are up, down force is there. You’re going to be using the throttle a lot,” said Johnson. Excitement is evident as the season gears up for the sport’s biggest race and one thing fans and the whole sport can be proud of is the fact that “we built something together” that is sure to provide plenty to talk about this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
Did the Car of Tomorrow or your team have the most to do with your past success, and how does it compare to the new Gen-6? “When cars are difficult to drive, I tend to excel. Chad (Knaus) loves the challenge and can usually dial it in and make it comfortable for me. I also look at racetracks. You know, the quirky racetracks are where I kind of make my bread and butter – the Dovers, Martinsvilles, places like that. So I think it’s really a kind of a blend of things and really kind of a perfect storm. The COT (Car of Tomorrow) was for us and we rattled off a lot of wins and got in championship form and won some championships as a result, too. This car (Gen-6) is much more forgiving. I’m excited to get into the year and find out where the challenges are. You’re going to have to be highly committed to get a pass done. Speeds are up, downforce is there. You’re going to be using the throttle a lot. I enjoy that. I look forward to it, but the times when you’re sliding the car and the rougher the track is, that’s been better for us. So this could require me to learn how to drive the car a little bit differently and may pose a couple challenges for me getting going, but we’ll just have to get going in the season and see what’s out there.”
Are you at a disadvantage not being in the COT with the success you’ve had? “It’s hard to say, just yet. I still feel like we’re going to be plenty good. We’ve been competitive on all types of tracks. And if you go back to the last year of the Monte Carlo when we had lots of downforce like we do right now, we won the championship that year, too. I feel like I have it in my skill set. I know the team does. Some of those skills are probably a little rusty from the way things have been with the COT but I know I’ll find it. I’ll work endless hours to sort it out and make sure I’m doing all I can in the car. Right now, you have every big team saying we’re going to win races. We’re going to win the championship. There are a lot of high hopes out there. My team has them. All of Hendrick has them, as well. We just need to get racing and see where they fall.”
You did not have drafting practice at the Daytona test session. Will that hurt you? Did you learn any lessons? “We’re in Daytona for two weeks with lots and lots of practice. And as much as we want to think that a 10-, 15-car draft is important in a test session, it’s really not what we see in the race. Sure there were a couple of lessons learned and we realized that the bumpers don’t match up all that well. I’m glad I wasn’t out there to be a part of that in the test. But the Sprint Unlimited is going to be the first real indication of how things are going to work. We don’t have a lot of parts and pieces, so we need to be smart and make sure we have racecars to get into the Duels and then the 500.”
You’ve been training a lot. How important is that to a driver’s success in the car? “From a physical standpoint, some tracks have a much higher strength need than others – Bristol, Martinsville and a road course would probably be at the top. Talladega and Daytona would be on the bottom side. You add in the 39 races we have with the All-Star and Duel and all that stuff as the year wears on and, when the heat picks up, that physical toll is there and you’ve got to be in shape to do it. And I know Tony (Stewart) doesn’t look like he’s in shape but he has racing fitness. You know, there are plenty of baseball, football players who aren’t ready for the cover of Men’s Health, but they have playing strength. So, it’s hard to judge a book by its cover, at times. Of late, I’ve gotten more involved with endurance sports than I’ve ever expected or had an interest in but, once I got some momentum going and gotten involved with it, I’ve really enjoyed it and have had fun with it. I feel I’m doing far more than I need to to drive the car, but I can’t stop now. I’ve got too much invested.”
Are there any parallels between training and racing? “The training and even competing, there are a lot of parallels that exist with racing. And then the knowledge I’m learning from training and competing in triathlons and things like that, that I can carry over to the racecar – hydration, nutrition, rest, stretching. There are a lot of other aspects that are connecting those two worlds for me and I’m enjoying it.”