Jimmie Johnson returned at the lead Hendrick driver at Auto Club Speedway – The Hendrick Motorsports shop has been reorganized following the west coast swing
Ahead of Auto Club, 7-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson had yet to score a top ten. He was walking up to the door but coming up just short of the doorbell.
Results to that point: 38th (Daytona International Speedway), 27th (Atlanta Motor Speedway), 12th (Las Vegas Motor Speedway), 14th (ISM Raceway).
Before qualifying on Friday, Johnson discussed his current situation with the press in the media center. What are they chasing?
Mike Hembree from USA Today asked: What are the issues you’re fighting with the car? Is it the new car? Is things that carried over from last year?
“I feel it’s more of a carry over from last year. I’m fighting very similar issues that I did have last year.”
“Yes, we are still sorting out a new car and some new rules. I think we will continue to evolve that side of it, from an aero standpoint. And I feel there’s a little more to it than just that.”
“We’re working hard. I feel like we’ve had top 10 cars the last couple weeks. Unfortunately, some circumstances during the race have pushed us outside of the top 10. We’ve fought out way back, close to the top 10.”
A few days later, Johnson went on to score his first top in eleven races.
“Right now, we’ve just gotta have a clean weekend, starting on Friday. Start with track position and try to maintain it throughout the race. I don’t have the flexibility just yet to drift back in the field or have a bad starting spot and work myself as far forward as I want.”
Johnson didn’t have a clean weekend. He failed to make it to the track for qualifying, along with the other 4 Hendrick Motorsports machines. The #48 started 4th from last. Beginning in 33rd, Johnson battled his way to the front.
Changes at Hendrick Motorsports
“The new this year also includes a lot internally that’s going on at Hendrick Motorsports. When we return from here we’ll be able to move back into our new homes. People all reside in one building now.”
In years past Hendrick Motorsports teams have been divided into groups. There were two separate building. Two teams were in each building which walls and a distance of separation between them. Now, that’s changed.
“It will still be a month or two before we see the fruit that this is going to provide for us. To see what we can produce, working even closer together. I still see a lot of growth for Hendrick Motorsports in this first part of the year.”
There were two pre-season tests for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, Jimmie Johnson was not one of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers that was able to run in those test sessions.
“More practice would help us at this point. That’s just not what we have. Time in general is just short in the garage area.”
What’s different between this years car and last years car?
“It’s difficult to tell. The rules have changed and we have less downforce on the car to start with. I feel like my car is driving similar to what it did last year. That’s a perk.”
“The splitter change and the body changes that have gone on — I’ve heard the number, 300 counts of downforce have been taken away from all the cars out there.”
“And my car feels very similar. I think that’s a sign that we do have a better product with the Camaro body. We just haven’t maximized it yet. The #9 and the #42 have been way closer to the front than we have. We need to look at ourselves, until we’re the lead Chevy.”
The 9th place finish at Auto Club Speedway put Jimmie Johnson as the lead car within the Hendrick Motorsports operation.
With 300 counts of downforce removed via the rulebook, the cars should feel drastically worse. The fact that the car feels relatively the same tells you the new Camaro is a step in the right direction.
This weekend, Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports head into a track that has brought a high success rate to that organization. Jimmie Johnson has an average finish of 7th at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson has collected 9 grandfather clocks (the trophy presented for a win at the paperclip). His last Martinsville Speedway win came in October 2016.
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