Can Jimmie Johnson become fifth different winner of 2014?

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With five previous victories at Auto Club Speedway, a lot of eyes are on defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson this weekend as the series returns to the two-mile oval in Southern California.

Johnson has yet to win so far in this young Sprint Cup season, but last weekend at Bristol (where he finished 19th after an early tire failure), he said he felt no pressure whatsoever to effectively lock himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a win.

Today before practice began for Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Johnson reiterated those beliefs when asked if he was getting antsy about the matter.

“It’s not even close to time yet,” he said. “When you look at the stats, 16 different winners in a year is a rare occurrence. I still think that points are every bit as important as they’ve been until you get to Homestead.

“Even when you get into the Chase itself, the top guy in points will advance in every scenario – even the final one for the race at Homestead. Points are still the focus and we’ve been able to win multiple races a year with a certain mindset. I’m not going to chase home runs.”

Only twice in NASCAR history have there been more than 15 winners in a season’s first 26 races. And that particular feat has never occurred during the Chase era, which started in 2004.

So while Johnson’s mindset may run counter to the “win and your in” mentality that’s being emphasized more this season, he can be easily forgiven for having it.

It may all be a moot point anyway if Johnson can continue his mastery at Fontana, a place that has become one of NASCAR’s top tracks in regard to on-track action.

Johnson’s won eight times at both Dover and Martinsville, but Fontana is next up in terms of success for the six-time Cup champ. In addition to five wins, he’s earned 12 Top-5s and 14 Top-10s in SoCal over the course of his career.

The track has become a tricky one over time, but in Johnson’s mind, he believes that’s been a good thing for him and his team.

“I think our team has done well on low-grip level race tracks and this track’s in that category,” he said. “…The character in the track continues to change and the bumps, last year especially, are as big as I’ve ever seen them.

“The paving seams are very sensitive for running the right-side tires on – we’ve seen that in the NASCAR vehicles and also in IndyCar. So, I think those challenging elements are good for the 48.”

Power, Newgarden, Dixon fastest in first of 2 IndyCar practices today at Barber Motorsports Park

Photo: IndyCar
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Will Power was fastest in Friday’s first of two IndyCar practice sessions at Barber Motorsports Park.

Power covered the 2.3-mile permanent road course in 1:07.5987 minutes at 122.488 mph in the 45-minute practice session.

Even though he spun off the course during his session, Phoenix winner Josef Newgarden still managed to be second-fastest (121.919 mph at 1:07.9141 minutes), followed by Scott Dixon (121.296 mph/1:082627), Max Chilton (121.251 mph/1:08.2882) and Ed Jones (121.215 mph/1:09.5692).

Sixth through 10th were Simon Pagenaud (121.208 mph/1:08.3122), Jordan King (121.113 mph/1:083661), Graham Rahal (121.059 mph/1:08.3964), St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (121.029 mph/1:08.4131) and rookie Zach Veach (121.014 mph/1:08.4216).

Here’s the full speed chart:

Incidents:

* Early in the session, Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi ran off the track and into the grass, striking a small sign, but was able to get back on-track. However, Rossi was only able to complete 10 laps, relegating him to 20th-fastest in the 23-car field.

* Moments later, it appeared the rear brakes locked up on Newgarden heading into Turn 5, spinning him into the gravel trap. He was able to get going and returned to the pits for service and was back on-track with less than four minutes remaining in the session.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The second practice session of the day will begin at 3:50 p.m. ET. A third practice will take part Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET. The race, to be televised live Sunday on NBCSN, is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

* However, weather forecast does not look promising for Sunday’s race. As of 1 p.m. ET today, the forecast calls for 100 percent rain throughout the day.

* Dixon has had an incredible record at Barber Motorsports Park, with seven podium finishes in eight starts there. Except for one thing: he has yet to win a race there. But he does have five runner-up and two other third-place showings on the permanent road course.

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