Quaker State 400 is One That Got Away for Johnson
SPARTA, Ky. - For Jimmie Johnson, the Quaker State 400 is one that got away.
The six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion led 182 laps in last year's race but finished ninth after mishap on a restart with 21 laps to go.
Johnson was shuffled back on the restart and spun in Turns 1 and 2. After the race, he claimed eventual race winner Matt Kenseth had broken pace car speed on the restart. Kenseth took the lead from Johnson by making a fuel-only stop with 24 laps to go.
"There were a lot of cat and mouse games going on through last year," Johnson said. "That stuff has changed quite a bit now."
In September, NASCAR changed the rule that prohibited the second-place car from beating the leader to the start-finish line. The second-place car still can't re-start before the leader in the restart zone, but can beat the lead car to the start-finish line.
"I'm happy with the rule changes and certainly still today feel the scenario and the games played there is what led to our issue down there in Turns 1 and 2," Johnson said.
Kentucky Speedway is one of four tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson has not won a race. It would surprise no one if the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet visited victory lane tonight.
He enters with the highest driver rating (125.9), highest percentage of laps run in the top 15 (97.8) and an average finish of 6.0 in the three Quaker State 400s.
"We've been close," said Johnson, who has a series-leading three victories this season and trails only teammate Jeff Gordon in the points standings. "It's just on that last run; varying mistakes have kept us from going to victory lane. We've had a car capable of winning; I think two of them, at least. I'm not sure about the third. So it's just executing in that final run."
Johnson starts 25th and is one of 42 cars entered.
The deadline to enter a car in the Quaker State 400 passed Thursday without a last-minute addition, meaning the starting lineup for the Sprint Cup Series race will be one shy of a full field.
NASCAR allows a maximum of 43 cars for a Sprint Cup race. Forty-two drivers were entered and qualified Friday.
"When you compare our form of racing to others, we have double the fields compared to a lot of other major auto racing series," Johnson said. "I hate to see it, obviously. There's that prestige of having 43 since way back, but I don't think it has any bearing on the strength of our sport. When I look at all the markers our sponsors look at and why they're partners on our race car, things are going in the right direction."
Clint Bowyer said it's more important to have quality cars on the track.
"I don't think any set number has anything to do with the product of our racing and this sport," said Bowyer, who drives the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. "It has to do with the product and being able to put consistent race-winning competition on that race track for our fans."
Only once since NASCAR set the maximum starting field at 43 cars has a race in its top division featured a less than full field. In 2001, the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was postponed because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One team that had qualified did not return for the rescheduled race in November.
This season, 51 cars have entered a Sprint Cup race; 49 have started at least one race.
- Kentucky Speedway -