Jimmie Johnson seemed to be in the right place at the right time during last Sunday's Daytona 500, as precarious black clouds loomed over the speedway and threatened with a downpour for the second time. Johnson was leading the pack praying for...
Jimmie Johnson seemed to be in the right place at the right time during last Sunday's Daytona 500, as precarious black clouds loomed over the speedway and threatened with a downpour for the second time. Johnson was leading the pack praying for rain as Michael Waltrip loomed on his back bumper.
However, when the caution flag flew for a spin by Ward Burton on the backstretch, the restart opened the opportunity for Waltrip and lap down teammate Earnhardt, Jr. to work together to edge Johnson out of the lead and secure that spot for Waltrip.
"We knew we had to race to the halfway point," said Johnson. "When we were forced to start pitting early to keep the car from overheating. Chad [Knaus] really didn't have an option at that point with the way everybody was doing two tires or no tires, but to position us to be leading the race at the halfway point. That was the game plan. We got to third at the halfway point and then there was a pit stop after that that we took no tires and got us some track position. We led a little while and then got snookered there with the two DEI cars."
Johnson lost two positions on that restart, and three laps later the skies opened for the final time on Sunday, February 16. NASCAR officials judged that the race had run half of its advertised distance and called the race after it became clear that weather conditions were not going to improve. Earnhardt. Jr.'s assistance scored Michael Waltrip the victory, relegating Johnson to a disappointing third place finish.
"Well, the thing is that we're all tired of getting beat by them," Johnson said of the DEI double-team. "They're pretty solid on their own. With the good and bad of restrictor plate racing, you can gang up on someone who is better or a team that's dominant and beat them. But everyone seemed to want to team up with DEI and follow those guys to get a third place finish."
Johnson, however, does leave Daytona second in points after his third place finish with bonus points for leading a lap. He looks forward to going to Rockingham this weekend even though his average finish in the two 2002 races there is 33rd, and average starting position is 21st.
"I can't wait to get back to that place [Rockingham]," said Johnson. "Last season we had some fluke things happen to us at each race that cost us a lot of points and left everyone thinking that Rockingham is one of our worst tracks. Actually, I think it is one of our best tracks and a place that we will play a role in the outcome."
"Car wise," Johnson continued. "We are going to be racing a brand new Chevy, but one that we had a strong test with in Las Vegas at the end of January. After two Winston Cup races at Rockingham, I think that it would be very hard for this team to have another sub par result here."