Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says he’s fine when it comes to racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s just the matter of getting to the race itself that can be a grind on him.
“I just want to survive this place,” Johnson said this morning before qualifying 11th later in the day for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver has won at Bristol in the past (2010) but admits that it takes him a few extra laps around the high-banked half-mile to get himself sharp.
“This track really is difficult on me and [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] and the team through practice and qualifying,” he said. “Then in the race we seem to find our way.
“A lot of that falls on my shoulders. I feel like this track, for me, it just takes the repetition of laps to find a rhythm and to find the half a tenth or so that I need to really be in the game.”
Johnson was just 27th-fastest in the single practice before qualifying. However, Johnson was able to pick it up and make his way into the second round of quals to ensure himself a decent starting spot for Sunday.
“We leaned on our teammates and got some speed and made it to the second round,” he said post-quals. “We wished we could have been a little faster there. Still, starting 11th isn’t too bad for us here.”
And it’s not too much to convert into his first win of the young season. Wins definitely mean more now than they used to thanks to NASCAR’s Chase overhaul, but Johnson said this morning that he feels no pressure to make himself a virtual lock for the post-season.
While Johnson has not yet won, he has been competitive with finishes of fifth at Daytona, and a pair of sixths at Phoenix and Las Vegas.
That’s put him third in the standings and understandably confident that he’ll be alright, one way or another.
“I’m happy that we are third in points,” he said. “I feel like Vegas we had a shot to win. Midway through the race, the balance of the car changed and we found something wrong with the car that was pretty rare and unique for us, so we know where our speed went.
“And I feel like the [Daytona] 500 – we had a shot to win so we have had two chances to win and have had a bunch of Top-6 finishes. There is nothing to be concerned about yet, one because the year is early and two, I feel like at least one or two positions will go in via points.”