Johnson Set on Changing Kentucky Karma
Jimmie Johnson's run to five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships has given new meaning to the word dominance.
Johnson's drive for a sixth straight title, though, has been upstaged by a 2011 season that has just as impressively redefined parity, with the first 17 races producing 12 different winners.
He's on that list of 12 after taking his 54th career NSCS victory at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17. The El Cajon, Calif., driver rolls into tomorrow's "Quaker State 400" in a fifth-place tie with Matt Kenseth in the championship standings and sitting just 22 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.
Johnson reflected on the changing NASCAR landscape that's helped create parity at the mid-point of the 36-race season.
"I think that as time goes and the longer the rules stay the same, it closes the gap on the competition side and it provides for more winners. If the rules open up and there are some changes, I think you'll see the big teams kind of migrate away from the rest of the group, because they'll find something first. I certainly hope that Hendrick Motorsports will be the first to do it. We've done that in the past, and everyone starts catching up," Johnson said.
He's set to make his second career NASCAR start in the commonwealth tomorrow night and second straight in a Kentucky Speedway inaugural event.
He said the 1.5-mile track owes him more than one favor. He finished 30th in the speedway's first NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 2001 and had rough experiences in the NSCS practice sessions that followed with his No. 48 team.
The defending series champion is on track to turn his tough-luck Kentucky history around tomorrow night. He led the series opening practice yesterday with a 175.879 mph (30.703 seconds) lap and showed sixth in the second session with a 177.743 mph (30.381 seconds) circuit.
"To win an inaugural event is something special. I'd love to have that opportunity. This track has beaten me up one or two times. I've torn up a lot of racecars here. I certainly hope that is behind me and I can come out of here with a straight car and win," Johnson said.
An ESPY nominee for "Driver of the Year" and "Male Athlete of the Year," Johnson fielded the omnipresent questions about the Kentucky Speedway asphalt and at what point a racetrack should be resurfaced.
"My opinion is if the owner/operator of that facility thinks the asphalt is going to come up and if it's going to affect the race, like what we saw in Daytona, probably so. Outside of that, leave this character on the track. The rougher it is, the more interesting the surface. I think the cars are so equal that we need the tracks to separate the field somehow. If we have perfectly smooth racetracks, plus grip, it's going to be a parade out there at 200 miles an hour," Johnson said.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice will precede NASCAR Nationwide Series "Feed The Children 300" qualifying and "Quaker State 400" qualifying. The jam-packed day of action concludes with the 7:30 p.m., NNS "Feed Children 300." Tickets remain and are on sale at the speedway gates.
Story by Jeff Hibbs and Mike Schmaltz
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