Jimmie Johnson on Bristol: “I just want to survive this place”

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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.”

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.