News & Media


Johnson focuses on positives in face of near-miss at Richmond

May 01, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson had a fast car in Richmond, but a pit penalty for failing to properly handle a discarded tire cost his team. (Autostock)

RICHMOND, Va. -- The No. 48 car wastes fast ride in Capital City 400 due to pit penalty in late stages

Jimmie Johnson finished a respectable sixth in the Capital City 400 Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

He felt like he passed enough cars to finish much higher than that, though.

"We had a couple of little mistakes ... We had a really fast race car. I wish they would give us 'fastest' points because I would have got a bunch. I think we were pretty equal with the leaders, the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and No. 14 (Stewart). We could have run third; we could have won the race."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

That's because he did pass a lot, but it didn't matter because of a penalty he had to serve when his No. 48 Chevrolet pit crew failed him on a late stop. As Johnson came to pit road on Lap 311, the caution flag flew and it looked as it was all going to work to his advantage as long as he could wheel the car back out onto the track before the pace car came around.

But in their haste to make certain of that, the 48 pit crew made a costly mistake. The left rear tire that came off the car and was replaced during the stop was left abandoned by the rear-tire carrier. And, when the jack man rolled it across the width of the pit box, the team was penalized for it by a NASCAR official monitoring the stop. Rules clearly state old tires taken off a car during a stop must be carried at least halfway across the box before they are released.

Suddenly, instead of possibly leading the race or at least starting up near the front of the field on the next restart, Johnson went to the tail of the longest line. He was scored in 15th, but actually had a total of 36 cars between him and Tony Stewart, who was leading the race at the time.

"We had a couple of little mistakes like that, unfortunately," Johnson said. "We had a really fast race car. I wish they would give us 'fastest' points because I would have got a bunch. I think we were pretty equal with the leaders, the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and No. 14 (Stewart). We could have run third; we could have won the race."

Instead, he settled for sixth. And he had to do some serious driving over the final 85 laps to earn that.

"It's frustrating, but if you race in this sport long enough you get challenged," Johnson said. "Even when a race is going well, I've learned to not expect for it to continue to go well. Things happen and that is what the driver and the team need to be ready for. To capitalize on those moments and make the most of those moments, we did a decent job (Saturday night) to get back to sixth."

It enabled Johnson, a five-time Sprint Cup champion, to move up one spot into sixth in the point standings. He called it "a great, solid performance," explaining that "we have been junk here the last two or three times. So, to come here and have a great night was very important for us."

Johnson said he long ago learned not to let pit-road miscues -- especially ones not of his doing -- affect his focus in driving the car. He also said the long green-flag runs that have become the norm this year on the Cup circuit also force drivers to maintain a laser-like focus -- because at a .75-mile short track like Richmond, drivers can use up tires or brakes if they go too hard too early in such a run.

"Inside the race car you really have to manage your equipment and take care of your stuff," he said. "From the driver's standpoint, I think it's a lot of fun. There was a lot of hard racing (Saturday night). I know there weren't the cautions; but there was a lot of really tough racing -- a lot of smart racing.

"You see guys go a little harder at the beginning, use their stuff up, fall back. You just had to manage your tires and be really smart with things and your brakes."

In the end, Johnson said while he was frustrated, he wasn't angry with his pit crew.

"We had a couple of little instances there. But stuff happens. It's racing," he said. "Unfortunately we had a tire get away from us and had to serve that penalty and go to the back."

He instead was more than just a little impressed with his car on the night.

"But the good news is we had a very fast race car. I guess last fall we were decent here, but this track has been real hit or miss for us. To have a car that strong and to pass that many cars all night long, I'm proud of the effort. I'm very thankful this Lowe's car was that strong.

"I certainly wish we didn't have that mistake -- but when you're in this deal long enough, mistakes happen. I just hate it when it lands on your shoulders, but I certainly don't want to beat anybody up."

* Video: Johnson penalized