News & Media

Johnson's victory at Infineon big for validation

June 24, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

Self esteem and pride are built in pieces. In life and in racing. Triumphs add a small piece here, a bigger piece there. Jimmie Johnson added a huge piece a year ago at Infineon Raceway when got his first Sprint Cup victory on a road course.

This weekend, Johnson returns to Northern California's wine country to race at Infineon. He'll take to the 1.99-mile, 12-turn circuit intent on adding another piece.

"I'd say the bottom line to it is I love road-course racing. I always have. I grew up racing off-road trucks ... To come into the Cup Series and not have success early irritated me."


This week, when asked about returning to the scene of twisty victory No. 1, the five-time defending series champion said, "I hadn't thought about it in that respect, but the way we ran last year on the road course and the progression that I've made as a driver, I've been very excited about this weekend's race coming up and look forward to a good run."

Johnson has 54 victories in 342 career starts. He's won on superspeedways, short tracks and restrictor-plate tracks. But when he arrived at Infineon last year, he had a fat zero in the road-race column.

And that hurt. It hurt because, as many drivers will tell you, winning on road circuits tends to validate their credentials as a complete driver. And it hurt even more because Johnson considers himself a road racer trapped in a full-bodied car.

"I'd say the bottom line to it is I love road-course racing," Johnson said after his 2010 victory. "I always have. I grew up racing off-road trucks, they were on road courses with jumps. Made a name for myself in that style of racing.

"To come into the Cup Series and not have success early irritated me.

"That's why [winning Infineon] is so special to us, why it has meant so much. I just truly enjoy road-course racing, doesn't matter if it's our stock cars, the Grand-Am Series I run in. I'd love to run in an IndyCar someday, F1."

Even though Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have that first road victory, they really could use another on Sunday. First, to show that last year was no fluke -- he got the victory when leader Marcos Ambrose bizarrely could not re-fire his engine near the end of the race after turning off the engine to save fuel -- and second, to re-establish some of the momentum he lost last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

In that last race, he was sitting second in the points and running well when he suddenly committed a rare, unforced error by spinning out. He couldn't recover track position at big, old MIS and wound up 27th. He dropped to fifth place in points.

"I don't know what really happened there," Johnson said. "I thought for as fast as the car rotated around, I thought I had help getting turned around. I haven't seen a video, but evidently I didn't. It must have been an air situation with cars around the back of my race car in traffic. We're out there walking on that jagged line each and every lap of the race and I got turned around there in Michigan."

The plan at Infineon on Sunday will be to keep the rear tires planted to avoid wheel hop and take advantage of the three or four places where he thinks passing is possible.

Who's Hot / Not

• Marcos Ambrose has started seventh or better in each of his three races at Infineon.
• Jeff Gordon has scored top-10 finishes in his past five Infineon races, the longest current streak.
• Juan Montoya has finished in the top 10 in all four of his Infineon starts.
• Kasey Kahne has started in the top 10 in the past five races at Infineon.
• Tony Stewart has led at least one lap in six of the past seven Infineon races.
• Kurt Busch has finished 15th or worse in his past four Infineon races.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. has competed in 11 races at Infineon and has yet to score a top-10 finish; his previous best is 11th (2003, 204, 2010).
• Matt Kenseth has just one top-10 finish in his 11 races at Infineon.
• Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Max Papis and David Ragan are among the drivers with no top-10 starts or finishes at Infineon.
• Jamie McMurray has finished in the top 10 just once in eight Infineon races.

"It's a test of perseverance, patience, your road-course talent," Johnson said. "It's not an easy weekend to go through Sonoma, and Watkins Glen for that matter. Our cars have way more horsepower than they do grip or stopping ability, which creates its own set of challenges and I like a challenge."