Eat a Peach for a Peaceful Race?
Before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship starts, the field still needs to be set and the revolution continues for those coveted spots Sunday night in the Peach State. Johnson can expect a more peaceful two weeks since clinching his spot in the 2012 Chase – NASCAR’s version of the playoffs – with his second-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway Saturday. Johnson continued his streak as the only driver in the series who has made the Chase since the format was adopted in 2004.
But while his spot is secure, there is the matter of where he is seeded in the Chase, as well as who ends the regular season as the points leader. If the Chase was to begin this weekend, the point standings would be reset and Johnson would be in a four-way tie for first place with Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart, each with three wins this season – the determining factor in how drivers are seeded once they are locked in. Johnson’s three wins came at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in May, Dover (Del.) International Speedway in June, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July.
In the actual standings, Johnson is currently 11 points out of first place. But while drivers earn no advantage by ending the regular season first in points, it is something Johnson relishes. He joked at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn two weekends ago that “a little $5 trophy, a tee shirt would be nice – anything” for the points leader at the end of the regular season.
To accomplish that particular goal, however, Johnson must tackle the wickedly fast 1.54-mile Atlanta oval. Fortunately, Atlanta has been as successful a racetrack as any for the five-time Sprint Cup champion, who has three wins there. His last was in 2007, when he swept both events. His most memorable and emotional Atlanta victory came in October 2004, one week after the tragic Hendrick Motorsports aircraft accident near Martinsville, Va.
In addition to his wins, Johnson has finished in the top-three in half of the 20 races he has run at Atlanta. His runner-up efforts have produced some memorable moments on track. Last year, he and teammate Jeff Gordon put on a great show as they battled for the lead in the closing laps. His second-place finish mirrored several other runs throughout his Atlanta career. In October 2008, he lost to Carl Edwards by a nose coming off the final turn after picking up nine spots in the final eight laps. In October 2006, current reigning champion Stewart edged Johnson on the final lap, but Johnson would prove unstoppable in the final races on his way to his first of five consecutive championships. In March 2005, Carl Edwards beat Johnson after he completed an amazing pass on the outside in the final corner of the last lap to edge Johnson by just two-hundredths of a second.
So while the action on the track Sunday evening is sure to be anything but peaceful as NASCAR inches one race closer to setting their field for the Chase, Johnson just hopes it’s one more step in his evolution as the sport’s 2012 champion.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
Atlanta has a really rough surface and has had a lot of close finishes. Do you have a memorable moment from your three wins? “I do I remember a really tight battle with Tony Stewart one year. I got by him with a lap or two to go. Probably the most memorable win, must have been 2004. The plane crash was the weekend before in Martinsville. Then we came to the racetrack about as low as you can be emotionally. I ran second and third most of the day and, on the last run, found a way by Mark Martin, who was driving the wheels off his car. I don’t think I have ever driven a racecar that hard. I got by him late in the race and was able to hold him off to win. A very emotional day, not only for me, but for all of Hendrick Motorsports and, more importantly, for Rick and Linda (Hendrick) and the families involved to give them something positive in just the worst week ever.”
What do you like about Atlanta? Do you feel it fits your driving style? “It does. This car, especially, slides a lot so the tire and the surface, with all the sliding, it wears the tires out quickly. I typically do well on those types of tracks. It took us a little time to sort out the COT (Car of Tomorrow) there and I feel like I have been a lot more competitive over the last trip or two. I’m excited to go back. I think we will have a good shot at winning. It’s a unique track that challenges you, honestly, every foot around the racetrack.”
Talk about qualifying at Atlanta. “The speeds are high and it’s an evening qualifying session. The track is so rough that, when you tape it up and try to run wide open around that place, the bumps are so big and the car’s sealed off so tight on the ground that you are literally just bottoming out through every swell, every bump, trying to hold it wide open. You’re fighting the wheel and it’s a wild lap. I’m glad you only run one.”
Source: Jimmie Johnson media