Jimmie Johnson seeks Richmond magic

Jimmie Johnson seeks Richmond magic

To hear Jimmie Johnson tell it, Richmond International Raceway is a lot of fun for a race car driver. Just not him. Jimmie Johnson. Photo by Eric Gilbert. The .75-mile oval is a little too big to be a short track and a little...

To hear Jimmie Johnson tell it, Richmond International Raceway is a lot of fun for a race car driver. Just not him.

Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
The .75-mile oval is a little too big to be a short track and a little too small to be a big track. Johnson loves the wide surface that produces the side-by-side racing that the competitors appreciate and the fans love, but so far, he just hasn't figured out how to get to the front.

"It's a really good race track for everyone," said Johnson, who is 27 points ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon in the championship standings. "It's got the right layout, the right shape and we have enough speed with enough room for our race cars to put on a good show. Everybody smiles when we think about coming to Richmond. It really fits our race cars and the racing that we put on."

The only problem is that Johnson has yet to find the magic at RIR that has taken him to victory lane 15 times in the past four seasons. In six Nextel Cup starts, Johnson has managed just one top-10 finish - a second-place run last spring. In his four Richmond starts before last season, Johnson had finished on the lead lap twice and led a total of one lap - the first lap of the fall race in 2002 when he started from the pole.

"I don't think we've got anything figured out yet," said Johnson, who was 40th in Happy Hour and qualified 28th on Friday. "We've been struggling up here for a while. We run fine - top 5 and top 10, but just never really fought for the win, and hopefully we can get that changed around. But, we're off to a slow start right now."

Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt.
Johnson will need to use Richmond's good passing lanes to work his way to the front for a chance to win the Chevy American Revolution 400 on Saturday (7:30 p.m. Eastern on FX). No driver in Johnson's lifetime has won at Richmond from that far back - Richard Petty holds the record for winning from the deepest starting position when he clawed his way through the field after starting 28th in 1971 - four years before Johnson was born.

"It can really take an experienced team to win here," said Johnson, who failed to score a top-10 finish in five Busch Series starts at RIR. "It's so hard to run competitive lap times. A lot of times it seems that the strategy of your pit stops at the end gives you your track position to win the race. You have to fall on the team and the entire experience of the team. That's why veterans teams and veteran drivers (go) to the top."

Johnson experienced both ends of the Richmond finishing order last season. He finished a career-best second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the spring race, but suffered through a 36th-place finish in the final race before the Chase for the Championship last September. The poor result allowed teammate Jeff Gordon to take over first place in the point standings.

But you get the feeling that if Johnson finds his way to victory lane, Richmond will quickly become one of his favorite race tracks.

"One guy feels it's the perfect track once he's in victory lane," said Johnson. "It's a great race track. Of the short tracks we run on, it fits our race cars the best. We can put on the best show here. Bristol is great-fans love it, the drivers love it, but it's tough to pass. It's tough to really race on it. Martinsville's the same way. This track, you've got multiple lanes and you can really race."

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Eric Gilbert