Johnson geared up for Watkins Glen

Johnson geared up for Watkins Glen

Jimmie Johnson loves road racing. With his recent success on the two road courses on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, that doesn't come as much of a surprise. Jimmie Johnson. Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom. Johnson, who joined the series...

Jimmie Johnson loves road racing.

With his recent success on the two road courses on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, that doesn't come as much of a surprise.

Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
Johnson, who joined the series full time in 2002, has an average finish of 15.4 in five career races at Infineon Raceway at Watkins Glen International. More importantly, he has a pair of top-5 runs in the past two road course events.

After qualifying 20th and starting at the back of the field because of an engine change at Watkins Glen one year ago, Johnson charged to the front and finished fourth -- the best road course finish of his young career. At Infineon in June, Johnson started 34th and guided his Lowe's Chevy through the field for a fifth place finish.

The only downside to NASCAR road racing, according to Johnson, is the limited number of events on the schedule.

"We need to have some more," says Johnson, who won six off-road racing championships before turning his attention to stock car racing in 1998. "I really think four or five is the right amount to justify the time and expense all the race teams put into our road course cars. You talk to a lot of people in the garage and the response is either do away with them or add two more."

As the series' points leader, Johnson inherited the pole for Sunday's Sirius at the Glen (1:30 p.m. ET on TNT) after qualifying was rained out on Friday.

"We were hoping for a top five or top ten qualifying effort, which I think we could have done pretty easily, but we'll take the front row any day," said Johnson, whose best starting position in any road course race was 12th at Watkins Glen in 2002. "We'll have great track position and pit stall pick. It's important to have track position here."

Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
Throughout his Nextel Cup career, Johnson has followed closely in the shadow of his mentor and Hendrick Motorsports' teammate Jeff Gordon, who has seven road course wins in his career, including the June race at Infineon.

The #48 team has benefited from the experience of the #24 team and adapts their car set-up to fit Johnson's driving style.

"Jeff has a tried and true package that works at Sonoma and here -- he's been very successful with it," explains Johnson, who finished 35th in his first Cup series race at Sonoma in 2002. "We went off on our own direction and tried some stuff and didn't really have a lot of success with that. This year in Sonoma we came to the race track very similar to the #24. Those guys were the fastest car here last year. At different points in the race they had a second advantage over the competition."

Johnson and Gordon will start side-by-side on the front row on Sunday. Gordon started on the pole last year, but was bumped by Greg Biffle on the first lap and then ran out of gas on the final lap. Johnson expects a little more slack from his guru on Sunday.

"Between the two of us and the respect we have for one another and our desire to finish the race, I don't think there would be an issue there between teammates," Johnson predicted. "We try to leave each other a little room, especially in the opening laps. It wouldn't matter if it were Jeff or anyone outside of me. I definitely need to make it past the first corner before I race too hard."

Johnson and Gordon are also racing neck-and-neck for the points lead as the series approaches the cutoff point for the Chase for the Championship. Johnson has been the points leader since June, but Gordon has closed the gap in recent weeks, jumping from sixth to second in the same time period. Gordon's win in the Brickyard 400 last Sunday moved him to within 97 points of Johnson.

"Our race team knows what our agenda is and what we're doing from week to week," said Johnson, who suffered his first mechanical failure of the year and finished 36th in Indianapolis. "We were disappointed that the stuff that we tried last weekend didn't work out. We were surprised that we had an engine failure. We're just trying to roll along and get our package tuned in and have it exactly what we need for the final ten. We hate to not perform like we wanted to at one of the biggest races of the year. If we don't have the right day, the #24 is and we're carrying the Hendrick banner high and proud."

Johnson planned to use his practice time this weekend to work on his braking points and was disappointed that the on-track activities were rained out on Friday. He was among the 10 fastest cars in the first session on Saturday and was 14th fastest during Happy Hour.

"We are definitely learning some new things," admitted Johnson, who is bringing the same car that he ran at Sonoma in June and in both road course events last year. "I'm not the fastest guy on new tires. That's really not what I am looking to do. I'm looking to perfect my race pace. Over the long run we're looking at some times and everything looks really good. That car is stable and extremely consistent. I'm on pace with everyone and in good shape."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Greg Biffle , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports