Howlin’ For You
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Aug. 21, 2012) – The Black Keys probably didn’t have stock-car racing in mind when they wrote these opening lines to their 2011 rock hit, Howlin’ For You: “I must admit, I can’t explain any of these thoughts racing through my brain.” But Jimmie Johnson will entertain race fans with it as he walks out to the song during driver introductions prior to Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
It’s also safe to say he isn’t the only driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit with lots of thoughts racing through his or her brain. With just two more races to go before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship after Saturday night’s race at Bristol, there are likely to be some drivers “howlin’” after what’s sure to be another helping of the typical beating and banging that characterizes races at the .533-mile high-banked concrete oval.
Johnson, of course, hopes that “howlin’” occurs after the race from the vantage point of victory lane. He has one win at the short track, yet it was some years in the making as Bristol has somewhat flummoxed the five-time Sprint Cup champion. However, his results have shown marked improvement over the past few years.
From 2002 through 2008, Johnson had only six top-10 finishes in 14 races at Bristol. But from 2009 and beyond, he has had only one finish outside the top-10 – a 35th-place result in August 2010 after he finally broke through with a win the previous March. For a driver who consistently ranks in the top-five in driver ranking each week, Bristol is an exception as he is ranked seventh. The track ranks as his fourth-lowest in driver rating. Only Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway are worse for Johnson.
So while fans may be “howlin’” for Johnson as he walks down the red carpet during driver introductions Saturday night, the five-time champion hopes that ruckus continues long after he crosses the finish line first Saturday night, at which time he will finally be able to explain the thoughts running through his brain from victory lane.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
With the track changes made since the March race at Bristol, what do you expect the racing to be like?
“I don’t know what to expect. We have had grinding done at some tracks and we bought into a theory that it would do something; then it did the complete opposite. I don’t know what to expect until I really get on the track. I heard that where they ground the track was slick. We will just have to see over all the laps and, once we get into the race, what really happens there. Bristol went out on a limb here. It’s not about the drivers, it’s about the fans. We will see if they make everybody happy.”
What toll does Bristol take on drivers and their equipment?
“There are a lot of G-forces, and a lot of vertical loading with the high banks there. It’s easy to over-abuse a tire and slow the car down, eventually blowing the right-front and having a bigger issue. There is a fine balance you need to find between driving the car hard enough versus overdriving it. The equipment today is so strong that it’s tough to really break something from a suspension aspect or the engine. The tires – you can really run the tire off the car there.”
Due to the fact Bristol has the potential to be so different following the grinding of the track, do you think this race will be a “wild card” in terms of how the Chase will play out?
“Yeah, it can and that has always been a big concern about Bristol. For me, the reason I have always focused so hard to collect a lot of points early in the Chase is because Bristol has not been a strong track for me in years past. I have always been concerned about Bristol, and then also Richmond. When you are on a short track, anything can happen. I have watched a lot of guys have miserable nights in Richmond trying to make the Chase. I want to lock in before then, that’s the goal.”
Source: Jimmie Johnson media