With three races remaining in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, championship co-leader Jimmie Johnson fully expects to see the man he shares the top of the standings with battling him all the way to the finish.
Matt Kenseth pulled into a tie with Johnson last weekend with a runner-up result at Martinsville Speedway (Kenseth holds the tiebreaker over Johnson with a 7-5 advantage in 2013 wins), and they’ll both be near each other at the start of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway; Johnson is set to roll off third, Kenseth from sixth.
And at this late stage of NASCAR’s post-season stretch, Johnson doesn’t see a proverbial chink in the armor for Kenseth and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
“No – I mean at this point, with three races left, I can’t say that there really is [a weakness],” Johnson said on Friday after qualifying. “I’m not planning on it. I didn’t have a lot of faith built in Martinsville being a weak track for him because he ran so good there in the spring. It certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he ran 15th all day [laughs] but I knew that wouldn’t be the case early on in the event and he had a strong race.
“So, I don’t think there’s a weakness for either team right now. We’re probably going to finish by each other. If somebody has a mistake, I think that will be the deciding factor. But other than that, I think we’re going to run right around each other for these next three races.”
Both Johnson and Kenseth tested last week at TMS, and with a lot of work taken care of then, Johnson focused more on qualifying runs during today’s single practice session.
That means tomorrow’s practice runs will be about fine-tuning the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for what should be a grueling battle on Sunday.
“The 20 [Kenseth] had a tire issue when we were here so we’ll try to validate a longer run and make sure there are no issues,” Johnson said of his plans for Saturday. “So, it’s very small things, to be honest. And just to get a temperature on the track and how its grip level is and what adjustment might work.
“There will be pretty fine adjustments tomorrow. We won’t be changing A-frames and springs and all that kind of stuff. It’ll be pretty minor. The engine shop would love us not to run.”
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”