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.”