After the dust from the MWR scandal has settled, Johnson feels that a change is necessary
CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson is not a controversial guy. He’s a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, one of the most popular drivers on the planet and known for his even keel and steady demeanor.
That said, he’s advocating that NASCAR adopt a red-flag review process and beef up its officiating crew to help prevent events from unfolding as they did last Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
“The overall issue in officiating is, we need to expect things when we get to Chase time and really year- round,” Johnson said Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of the Chase Across America program. “NASCAR should have people--they should staff up instead of downsizing--to be part of the race officiating. Not only from the aspect of what we’re talking about now [the finish of the race at RIR], but when you get down to restarts and a lot of other things that take place. It’s tough for the tower to take care of it all. They need more people, qualified people with resources and technology, to make these decisions.
“In my opinion, if there’s a question and they don’t know the answer, they need to stop the race immediately. Red flag, pits are closed, make the best judgment they can, because coming back on Monday or Tuesday to try and fix the situation is just too much.”
In short, he’s lobbying for NASCAR to do the same things that other major professional sports leagues do: stop the clock, look at the play and make the correct call.
“In my opinion, stop, red flag, pits are closed, make a decision, sort it out then, line the cars back up,” Johnson said. “Nobody has any advantage from pitting, nobody takes tires, nobody takes fuel. It’s your best attempt to put the race back into motion and let us race for it instead of on a Monday or Tuesday trying to sort it out.”
NASCAR, historically, takes a dim view of radical change in its officiating policy, especially at the kickoff of the post-season. But this time, with the events at Richmond fresh in everyone’s mind, that might change.
“You just have to look at the lesser of the evils,” Johnson said. “Coming back on a Monday or Tuesday seems like a bigger problem to me than stopping the race; make the right call and resume the race. Do the best that you can to resume the race in the form or fashion that it was.
“I get it; it’s not perfect, but I’d much rather us write about and talk about the attempts to preserve the race and to have the right people in the Chase than all these what-ifs. We’ve been working hard to eliminate gray areas, and we have to keep going down that road. I know it’s not an easy thing to do, but I think it’s something that should be considered.
“To go with that, we’re not having many cautions in these races lately, so it’s a 10-minute break to allow someone to go to the bathroom and someone to grab a beer…”
Johnson also said that teammate Jeff Gordon was a victim in the shenanigans that went on at Richmond, and had his plan been in place, he’d likely be the fourth Hendrick Motorsports car in the Chase this year.
“If he was in position to be in the Chase before the caution, then I would say yeah, that only seems fair,” Johnson opined. “I don’t know how it all plays out. We’re in the position where, truthfully, if you stop the race, make the call, live with the call, let the racing dictate who is in and who is out instead of judgment calls and this is fair, this is not fair, whatever the penalties are. There’s way too much in dispute here.”
Despite being the absolute gold standard in the NASCAR post-season, Johnson enters this year’s Chase on a bit of a downward trend. He has had two utterly forgettable races at Bristol and Richmond, and that’s not the way he’s used to hitting the final 10 races.
But, history being what it is, he is optimistic about his chances once the Chase gets under way.
“When you look at our team, August is always a tough month for us,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of years when we’ve made it through well. That’s one issue. When you look at the tracks that make up the Chase, a lot of them are really, really good for us. Five of them are 1.5-mile tracks, we’ve had tons of speed on those tracks. Seems like it’s the bigger the track the better, as we’ve had more speed there than on the short tracks. Martinsville and Dover are good for us, too.
“I wish we had more momentum and better finishes going into the Chase, I’m not going to sugarcoat that, but it’s not the end of the world. We’ve been here before, and we’re rolling into a track that’s been awful good for us.”
What happens when he gets there is the key, Johnson said.
“If we run 15th, go down a lap at Chicago and don’t have any speed, then it’s time to hit the panic button,” he quipped. “But going into Chicago, I’m very confident that we’re going to be right in the middle of it.”