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Johnson eases back into the saddle at Montreal

August 17, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Johnson eases back into the saddle at Montreal

MONTREAL -- It may not be as easy as riding a bicycle, but it didn't take Billy Johnson long to get reacquainted with his Nationwide Series car and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Absent from the No. 60 Ford for nearly a year -- since he practiced and qualified for Carl Edwards here in 2011 -- Johnson posted the seventh-quickest lap in Friday's first practice.

"It's about ... just being smart out there. There's a few people that drive very aggressively out there because they have nothing to lose or drive over their head and don't have the equipment to be able to do that. "

--BILLY JOHNSON

"The car was great, right out of the box," Johnson said. "The team gave me a great car. It's nice to drive and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do in qualifying."

Johnson nearly got the opportunity to start the car last year, and had helmet in hand as the clock wound down. But Edwards showed up just a handful of minutes before the command to start engines.

However, with all of Roush's full-time Cup drivers committed to Michigan, Johnson was the logical choice when owner Jack Roush decided to run a companion car to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s No. 6.

With a quick lap of 95.735 mph, Johnson made the transition look easy. But, in reality, trying to switch from nimble Grand-Am cars to a vehicle with more horsepower and less braking can be a challenge for any driver.

And at a track like Montreal, where one little mistake -- either from aggression or precision -- can snowball into a big one in a heartbeat, Johnson was glad to have gotten through the session without a flaw.

"It's definitely different," Johnson said. "The tire is a bit different from the smaller sidewall road-race tires I'm used to. The weight of the car is similar to the Grand-Am Boss 302 Mustang that I race with Jack Roush Jr. But this car has more power and a lot more different quirks about it."

What Johnson wishes he had more of is the ability to brake harder and longer, but that's the most common compliant throughout the garage area this weekend. Montreal's long straights and tight hairpins put a huge amount of stress on the brakes.

Johnson said the key is conserving as much brake as possible while still trying to run competitive lap times.

"No matter what you try to do, you're limited by the size of the brakes, the size of the wheels and the rules," Johnson said. "They're really heavy cars that have to go over 170 mph down to like 40 mph a bunch of times.

"This track is just hard on brakes on any type of car, and it's more difficult for this. But that's definitely going to be the key and could make or break someone's race. You need to be able to take what's there and not go too much more -- and also know when you don't need to push, so you can have something when you actually need them."

Johnson's previous two finishes with Roush Fenway include a 36th at Watkins Glen and a 33rd at Road America, but that's not indicative of how well he's run in a limited schedule.

He's hoping to showcase his talents in a better light this weekend -- but that'll take a combination of equipment, talent and perhaps most of all, good luck.

"It's about avoiding crashes and keeping my wits about myself, listening to the spotters and just being smart out there," Johnson said. "There's a few people that drive very aggressively out there because they have nothing to lose or drive over their head and don't have the equipment to be able to do that.

"I feel great in the car and I'm hoping to have a little bit of luck to avoid the mayhem that happens at this place."