Johnson makes latest breakthrough at Michigan By Dave Rodman BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 19, 2000) Jimmie Johnson drove the No. 92 ALLTEL Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish on Saturday. Jimmie Johnson started the 2000 season in the NASCAR Busch ...
Johnson makes latest breakthrough at Michigan
By Dave Rodman
BROOKLYN, Mich. (Aug. 19, 2000) Jimmie Johnson drove the No. 92 ALLTEL Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish on Saturday. Jimmie Johnson started the 2000 season in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division full of promise and potential. On Saturday the Californian reached the latest plateau in his still blooming stock car career. While Johnson's sixth place finish in the ALLTEL Chevrolet in the NAPAonline.com 250 only equaled his career best run in June at South Boston, Va., Saturday's epic was a race of a different tenor.
South Boston is a bullring more relevant to what Johnson was used to in his previous ASA ACDelco Challenge Series days. Michigan Speedway is a high-speed two-mile oval and Johnson proved his 29 NBS starts have led to something.
Johnson was never out of the top-10 on any of the rundowns issued by the race track throughout the race's 125 laps, and hopes his continued competitive runs can bring something else to his Herzog Motorsports team.
"Today was a great day in terms of points for us," said Johnson, who remained in 10th but moved to within 21 points of ninth place Casey Atwood. "We're without a sponsor next year, so this is a great way to prove we're a team of the future. Hopefully with finishes like this we can get a sponsor."
Johnson, who in his limited number of outings has scored only five top-10 finishes, is still on quite a roll. In 12 of his last 13 races he has finished in the top-20. Throwing out a 20th at Dover, an 18th at Pikes Peak and a 16th at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the other nine finishes have been top-15.
If he has to step up his program to prove he "belongs," Johnson is certainly picking the right time to do it.
"Each track is so different and so is each type of racing I've been involved with," Johnson said of his varied background, which includes off-road trucks as well as the ASA, "so I'm still going through a learning process. With a rookie crew chief (Tony Liberati) and a rookie driver, we're just starting to gel and hopefully we'll just get better and better."
So far in his career, Saturday was almost as good as it gets for Johnson. Before NBS veteran Mike McLaughlin late in the race aced him, Johnson was solidly running in the top-5. He passed, among others, NASCAR Winston Cup veterans including Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip and two-time NWC champion Jeff Gordon.
"Racing out there today was a dream come true," Johnson said. "Coming from California and off-road racing, it was awesome to be out there against the Winston Cup guys.
"I started screaming on the radio, 'I just passed Jeff Gordon.' They said, 'Great, now go pass Jeff Burton,' like it was no big deal. It was to me."
Johnson, on a steep learning curve, got a few more lessons Saturday.
"The car got tighter on long runs, and you get a lot of long runs here at Michigan," he said of the 125-lap day on the two-mile oval that was only slowed by one four-lap caution. "We were just a little too snug today. At the end, we thought we had the 24 (Gordon) car covered, and then the 48 (McLaughlin) snuck up on us."
Johnson said anyone who is watching his first-year NASCAR Busch Series team can expect more in the future.
"We tested here a few weeks ago and had a terrible car, but the guys brought a great car this weekend. Overall, the car handled well. This track can be scary when your car is not handling well.
"The biggest thing I learned today is how to drive in close traffic with the turbulence. The handling gets really tight in big packs of cars. Those guys (veterans) know how to make it still turn and work with the air to get the car to do what they want it to, but I'm still learning. We hope to just get better and better."