NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson wary of wild Sonoma restarts

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With three wins in his pocket, Jimmie Johnson has no need to worry about making the Chase. But he knows that not everyone in the Sprint Cup garage is in his position.

This weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the Sonoma Raceway road course has been targeted by multiple winless drivers as their best opportunity yet to win and get in the post-season.

And should he find himself either holding back or running with those winless drivers – particularly in a restart situation – Johnson is counting out on one thing: Trouble.

“On restarts, we know that there’s going to be chaos in [Turns] 7 and 11,” he said today at Sonoma before practice got underway. “You go in there and you just put your head against the back of the headrest and wait to get drilled from behind.

“Once you get spread out and get going – once you get through the opening lap or two – we get spread out and it’s really an individual race. You’re challenging yourself and your car and you just get in that zone and go.

“But restarts breed so much chaos around here, so no one’s safe. I’ve seen guys in eighth or 10th pull out of line and pass, wheel-hop [a corner], and clean out the guy in second and third. There’s nowhere safe on this track on restarts.”

While NASCAR regulars have improved their road racing skill by an impressive margin over the years, it appears that the level of aggressiveness on such tracks has gone up as well.

Throw in the fact that there are only a few passing zones on the Sonoma circuit, and it makes drivers that much more anxious to take any chance they can get.

“Everybody up and down the line is trying to set up a pass, so there are moments where you’ve worked hard, been patient, and are making your move, and then you don’t realize that the car behind you has set up a move on you,” Johnson explained.

“Or maybe in the process of getting along side someone, you’ve slowed down your section of the road and now everyone back behind you is thinking, ‘Maybe I can go three-wide, four-wide.’

“Or the line stops too quick, just like in bumper-to-bumper traffic…[For] the person fourth or fifth in line, the reaction time isn’t there, and pow – you’ve turned somebody around.”

Sometimes, such incidents can’t be helped. But then there’s the matter of blocking and what each driver chooses to do about it.

From Johnson’s perspective, his peers are getting less likely to be patient in that scenario.

“I think what aggravates most is the blocking and then after a restart or two and a few laps of blocking, you’re just going to make that decision: Are you going to tolerate it or are you going to send them [spinning],” he said. “And it’s turned into sending them, lately.”

NHRA: Tony Schumacher breaks Top Fuel speed record twice, hits a best of 336.57 mph

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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The “Shoe” put his foot into it Friday during the first of two days of qualifying for the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Tony Schumacher, an 8-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, rewrote the Top Fuel mph record book twice, while Clay Millican did so once, marking the first time in NHRA history that the national speed record was broken three times in the same day.

Schumacher ran a speed of 334.65 mph in his first qualifying run at 3.649 seconds. Millican surpassed that speed mark in the second round of qualifying with a 335.23 mph effort.

Then Schumacher broke the record yet again in his second qualifying attempt in the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster with a blistering speed of 336.57 mph at 3.667 seconds.

And with one more day of qualifying Saturday and final eliminations on Sunday, there’s a possibility that the record-setting may not be over.

“It’s only Friday in Phoenix and there is a lot of racing left to be done this weekend, but today tells me that we have an awful lot of power in this car,” Schumacher said. “Working with my crew chief Mike Neff this season continues to pay its dividends, and this team has really gelled so far.”

Also, Brittany Force returned to the track after suffering a hard wreck two weeks ago in the season-opening race in Pomona, California. Force, who did not make a full pass, is currently in the 13th qualifying position with a 4.454-second pass at 172.72 mph.

“It’s going to take a few runs to figure out this car. It is our car from last season. The guys had to haul back to Indy (after the Winternationals), pull this car out, rebuild it and get it here in time,” Force said. “We get two more tomorrow. I’m not worried. Plus, it works better for me, getting slowly back into it.”

In Funny Car, Jack Beckman took the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot with a second qualifying run of 332.43 mph at 3.845 seconds in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T.

“When it’s this cold the tracks get so tricky, because it can get so cold that the window for hitting a great run closes,” Beckman said. “I like the fact that we were able to make great back-to-back runs like that, especially after we had some trouble with the car in the semifinals in Pomona.”

In Pro Stock, Alex Laughlin had the hot foot, taking the provisional top spot with a second qualifying run of 209.43 mph at 6.537 seconds in his Hot Wheels Car Care Chevrolet Camaro. Laughlin is looking to earn his first No. 1 qualifying spot of the season and just the second of his Pro Stock career.

“It’s awesome to be able to go to sleep tonight as the current No. 1 qualifier,” Laughlin said. “Obviously anything can change tomorrow, but we ran stellar times during testing and I don’t know if it’s the car or the track but I definitely hope that we are finally connecting the dots.”

Qualifying continues at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS:

TOP FUEL — 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85; 3.

Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30; 5. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45; 6. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 329.58; 7. Antron Brown, 3.717, 333.66; 8. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32; 9. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 316.45; 10. Leah Pritchett, 3.755, 291.07; 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.786, 321.42; 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 13. Brittany Force, 4.454, 172.72; 14. Greg Carrillo, 4.553, 176.49; 15. Troy Buff, 4.560, 164.53; 16. Kebin Kinsley, 9.187, 74.21.

FUNNY CAR — 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.845, 332.43; 2. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.845, 328.70; 3. Jonnie Lindberg, Toyota Camry, 3.866, 317.27; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 328.62; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25; 6. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88; 7. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.944, 324.20; 9. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 10. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.148, 306.67; 11. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 12. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.333, 209.59; 13. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.474, 188.81; 14. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 15. John Force, Camaro, 6.745, 96.00; 16. Del Worsham, Camry, 7.374, 93.25.

Not Qualified: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK — 1. Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.537, 209.49; 2. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.545, 210.54; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.546, 211.13; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.553, 210.57; 5. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.554, 209.49; 6. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.558, 210.31; 7. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.561, 210.41; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 9. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.572, 210.50; 10. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.573, 209.65; 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.36; 12. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.582, 208.84; 13. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.591, 209.65; 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 208.65; 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.690, 206.83.

Not Qualified: 17. Joey Grose, 6.730, 205.94.

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