Jimmie Johnson ecstatic to be back on top
If Jimmie Johnson’s performance seems a bit off lately, it’s certainly not affecting the six-time Cup champion.
However, due to Johnson's recent results he almost inadvertently blew off his media duties after winning his 35th career Cup pole and his first at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday.
"We have had, as everybody knows, a tough month or two. To be back in the media center is a nice feeling. I even forgot that I had to come here. It’s amazing how fast things change."
Johnson was probably still surprised he won the pole — his first of the season. His best lap in practice was only 15th fastest. At the end of the session, Johnson experienced a mysterious issue with his car which led him to radio “something’s wrong.” The team never found a problem with car.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver embarked on a 32-mile bike ride with Matt Kenseth in the four-hour-plus break between first practice and qualifying in an effort to clear his head. When Johnson returned to the track, he methodically tackled time trials one session at a time.
Not panicking over recent struggles
Johnson doesn’t seem concerned that Hendrick Chevys are running a tick behind the Team Penske Fords or the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. He’s certainly pulled his weight with the organization, scoring the only two wins under the HMS banner this season. But Johnson’s average finish of 14.9 is the second worst of his career.
"Depending on the track I think it alternates between a Penske car or a Gibbs car," Johnson said. "Those guys have been the class of the field, especially as the summer has pressed on. We had a test in Indy where we tried to learn a lot. We have some more tests coming up for the company. I feel like we are trying to close the gap right now to what they have going on. Thankfully, we still have two months left to close the gap.”
The last five races have been particularly un-Johnson-like. He’s crashed in three of the races — twice at Kentucky — and posted just one top 15 — a 13th-place result at Sonoma Raceway last month. Although the No. 48 Lowe’s team in ninth in the standings, Johnson’s rookie teammate Chase Elliott is one position ahead of him.
Dale Jr.'s impact on pole lap
Johnson credited Dale Earnhardt Jr and the No. 88 team with collecting data during their Goodyear tire test that established the baseline to win the pole. Johnson added he was blown away by the news that Earnhardt was sitting out this weekend with concussion-like symptoms.
"I'm so happy for him that he is not afraid to stand up and say ‘hey I need to sit out.’ ," Johnson said. "Very proud of him, but he did come here and test for us. He gave us the foundation for the way our cars unloaded today."
As for his former teammate Jeff Gordon potentially subbing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if Earnhardt is still sidelined next weekend, Johnson believes the four-time champion might need to recover from his holiday prior to making his on-track return.
“Somebody had better call him," Johnson said. "I think he’s in the south of France drinking Rose. We need to sober him up and get him back (laughter). The posts I’ve seen from him and his wife, they’re having a big time over there. We need to send some Gatorade over there and get him hydrated and get him back for Indy.”
Jimmie Johnson scores first pole of the season at New Hampshire
Edwards loses pit stall selection for Sunday's race
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|Location||New Hampshire Motor Speedway|