Jimmie Johnson: We just need more time with new rules package


Results of fifth and sixth to start the season isn’t bad at all, but six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson admitted that he was looking for more from today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Johnson was near the front throughout the 312-lap event but couldn’t really keep up on pure speed with the leaders. After the race, he told Fox Sports that he’d been expecting a quicker pace from his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet off the hauler.

“I was in position to be third or fourth a couple of different times late in the race,” he said. “Just racing incidents happened where I lost a couple of spots and have to work my way back through the field, but all in all – OK.

“We thought we would be a little stronger unloading this weekend…It looks like we spent a lot of time focusing on closing out ’13 strong, which was what we needed to do, and maybe a couple of guys got a head start on this 2014 [rules] package.”

However, Johnson was far from being in crisis after today’s event, and said he was looking forward to Thursday’s test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – site of next Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 – as a chance for the 48 team to unlock more speed with the aforementioned new rules package in place.

“We just need a little bit more time with this new package to dial-in our race car,” he said. “…We were very focused at the end of 2013 to close-out ’13 strong. We didn’t participate in the test sessions that took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the 2014 package.

“We knew it would hurt us a little bit at the start of the year and there’s a little bit of that there. But, from where we unloaded to where we raced [today] was a huge, huge difference. We even qualified real nice. So, we’re definitely on the trail. We just need a little bit more time with the car.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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