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Johnson's optimism tempered by Happy Hour crash

March 10, 2012, Jill Erwin, NASCAR.com



Johnson's optimism tempered by Happy Hour crash

LAS VEGAS -- Saturday's Happy Hour at Las Vegas Motor Speedway definitely was not what Jimmie Johnson wanted out of the day.

Fewer than 24 hours after expressing optimism for the car he had brought and the finish he thought the No. 48 team could earn, Johnson lost control of his car on the first lap in Turn 2 and backed it into the wall. He damaged the rear end and right side of his primary car, which had qualified sixth, and was forced into a backup for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400.

Backed up


Jimmie Johnson made his task at Las Vegas a little tougher after crashing in practice.


_______________________

"We'll have to do something creative to gain some track position."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

"I was just a little loose back to the gas," Johnson said. "We made some adjustments from the first practice to the second, and I was really happy with what I had in [Turns] 3 and 4. And probably not enough grip for me there in [Turns] 1 and 2. I just lost the car, slid it and hit the outside wall."

Johnson said he had a "great backup race car" but he rallied to only the 24th-fastest time in that final practice. His fast lap of 180.832 mph was well off the pace set by Joey Logano at 182.970 mph. Mark Martin (182.698 mph), Kevin Harvick (182.698 mph), Marcos Ambrose (182.618 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. (182.618 mph) rounded out the top five in Happy Hour.

Ambrose also spun out during Happy Hour, but he kept it off the wall and was able to keep it clean (watch).

Kyle Busch wasn't so lucky. He had the second-fastest qualifying time Friday but moved to a backup car after brushing the wall in Saturday's first practice.

Despite being mired in 37th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings and facing Tuesday's appeal of the team's penalties from Daytona, Johnson was all optimistic on Friday before practice had even begun.

"My outlook's good," Johnson said. "Very competitive at Phoenix last week and I think the stuff we learned over the offseason that we had a chance to run at Phoenix will cross over here to Las Vegas.

"Eager to get on track and hopeful to have good speed in the car and a comfortable race car. I've always enjoyed this race track. I've been able to win here a bunch of times. You have to pull the belts tight and man up to run around here. It's a lot of fun."

Now, though, things are different. With a new car that ran only 20 laps and a starting spot at the back of the field, Johnson definitely has his work cut out for him.

But, in a little bit of silver lining, Johnson's strong qualifying run did earn him the final spot on pit road, meaning he has clear entry to his stall.

"Track position's everything," Johnson said. "We'll have to do something creative to gain some track position. I don't think we'll be in any trouble on pit road as a result of this. But we'll need to get a little creative on strategy."

As for his strategy for Tuesday's appeal of the penalties NASCAR handed down after Daytona, Johnson claims he doesn't know much. Crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec were suspended six weeks and Knaus was fined $100,000. In addition, Johnson and team owner Rick Hendrick each were docked 25 championship points, putting Johnson in the red before last week's race at Phoenix.

"We're prepared and ready and it's outside of my realm of knowledge," Johnson said. "It's through upper management at Hendrick -- Rick himself, personally, and Chad. I'll be waiting eagerly Tuesday to hear what happens and I know that there's one step after this appeal process if things don't turn out favorable for us -- we're ready to go to the next level, too, because the strength we have in our case and our opinion of the situation.

"There's really nothing I can do for that issue or for that situation. At the end of the day, I have to get maximum points each and every week and at a minimum, to secure a wild-card spot. Winning at least one race, maybe two races would do that."

His opportunity to do so at Las Vegas got a little bit tougher on Saturday.

As for Busch, because of the change to a backup No. 18 Toyota, he must give up his second-place starting position and also take the green flag from the rear of the field.

According to Jimmy Makar, vice president of racing operations at Joe Gibbs Racing, the choice to go to the backup was a difficult one.

"We can repair it -- we just don't know if we can get it back where it needs to be," Makar said of the primary car. "The frame is bent a little bit in the back. That makes us a little bit nervous, so we opted for the backup car to make sure we have a car that that we know is proper.

"The backup car is good. I don't think there will be any issues with that. It's a good up-to-date race car. It just puts us a little behind working on that. The car was awful good in practice. [It] came off the truck, and he was fast, consistent. He felt good in it. He liked the way it felt. To give that up is a bit disheartening, but it will be all right."

NASCAR Wire Service contributed to this report.