Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson, is looking for his fourth Coca-Cola 600 win this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Johnson has an impressive record at Charlotte with six wins, twelve top-5 and sixteen top-10 finishes. Three of those victories came from winning the Coca-Cola 600.
Coming off of an impressive six-win season last year and winning the Sprint Cup Championship, Johnson is still searching for his first win of the 2014 racing season. As each week goes by without a win, Johnson and his team are being questioned by fans and the media as to why this season has had such a different beginning than previous seasons.
The pressure for Johnson to win is due, in part, to the fact that he has never gone more than twelve races into a season without a win during his entire career as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
Johnson is no stranger to making history in this sport, but not winning the Coca-Cola 600 today would be a page in history that he would rather not write.
Winning one more race, a race that he has won three other times during his career, seems like an easily attainable task. However, we must remember that the Coca-Cola 600 isn’t just any race. It is the longest race of the season and one of NASCAR’s crown jewels.
Johnson was asked by members of the media on Thursday what the preparation is like for this race, given that it’s the longest race of the season. He stated, “The big thing you need to stay aware of is the track changing. That’s the biggest issue that we’ll deal with starting in the day and finishing late at night. I think maybe toward the start of my career we were a little bit worried about equipment and managing equipment. But those all seem to be distant memories now and you can really run every lap like it’s the last. Driver’s fitness and hydration is kind of a player in there as well and you might see a little bit of fatigue at the end…You’ve just got to keep your head in the game and focus on being in the game longer.”
On Chad Knaus’ weekly interview on SIRIUS XM radio’s The Morning Drive, he commented on some of the struggles his team has been having with the new rules package. He expressed that the new rules package favors a tighter car, but Johnson likes to drive a looser car.
Johnson agreed with Knaus’ statements, saying, “Yeah, that’s definitely what we’ve been dealing with. We develop a balance of a car in practice by ourselves in single car runs; and then in traffic situations, find that balance is just too uncomfortable to drive. So, we’re trying to trade off single car speed versus how the car handles in traffic has been kind of our goal. I do like a loose race car and as we get in traffic, the car typically gets looser. So, if you start with a loose car and you end up deep in traffic, you’re not really going anywhere; you’re kind of stuck. And yes, I’m not the best driver of a tight race car. A lot of tools have been taken away from us to help the car turn. So, it’s something that I’m trying to adapt to and sort out. There are always different challenges in this sport and I know that we’ll get it. I also feel that even though we haven’t won a race this year, there are 16 drivers that make it into the Chase, where last year there were 12 and two of those were wild cards. So, the window is a lot bigger to get into the Chase for the first segment and I feel very confident that we’ll be in there.”
The 48 team is hoping to make a statement at Charlotte this weekend, and it began on Thursday when Johnson won his first Coors Light Pole Award of the 2014 season.
On a day when NOT making history is the goal and proving that the No. 48 team is still the team to beat, Johnson will lead the field to green for the Coca-Cola 600 and try to claim victory for the first time this NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.