Jimmie Johnson remembers early Brickyard struggles

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It seems hard to fathom now, but Jimmie Johnson wasn’t always a threat to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before claiming his first of four Brickyard 400 wins in 2006, Johnson earned just one Top-10 in his first four Sprint Cup races there.

“There are certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team, and for me, this was one of the toughest ones that I came to,” Johnson recalled this morning at IMS before today’s sole Cup practice on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It took me a long time to get it, and the light finally turned on in my head – maybe it was, ’04, ’05. Mid-race, I’m like, ‘Man, I haven’t driven this track long since practice opened.’ I set my car up wrong and led my team in the wrong direction, and then in the race, it really dawned on me.”

But now, the six-time Cup champion is an almost regular challenger for victory whenever NASCAR’s top series visits the world’s greatest race course.

In order to reach that point, Johnson said he had to go against what he calls his “natural tendencies” as a driver. And as he said today, he still has to remind himself to do that every time he races Indy.

“I had to make a conscious effort to drive differently and I’ve been playing that movie in my head coming here and getting ready for this weekend’s race,” he said. “There are tracks where your natural driving tendencies suit you, and [Indy] just isn’t one of them for me.

“I’ve got to really change my game coming here and I’ve been able to identify [what I need to do]. I think that’s half the battle, just to understand that – don’t do what you think you need to do, try to think in an opposite manner to find speed.”

Johnson may have to go about things differently at Indy, but it’s definitely been working for him. He has finished first or second in four of the last six Brickyards.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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