News & Media

Johnson pushes away more bad luck at Vegas

March 12, 2012, Mark Aumann,

LAS VEGAS -- After practice crash. five-time champ goes from rear to second in backup car

It seems like nothing is going right for a driver who went through a five-year period where nothing could go wrong.

The fates have seemingly turned their attention somewhere other than in Jimmie Johnson's direction.

""[There's] definitely a lot to be proud of [Sunday]. Look at our pit stops on pit road, the consistent speed we had there -- the consistently fast race car that we had all day long.""


NASCAR officials declared Johnson's Daytona car illegal, resulting in a points reduction, fines and a six-week suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus -- all pending an appeal that will be heard Tuesday.

He didn't make a complete lap of the Daytona 500, getting caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 1. And he wrecked his primary car in practice Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, forcing him to start at the tail end of the field in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400.

With all that in mind, it would have been easy for Johnson, Knaus and the entire No. 48 Chevrolet team to bemoan their misfortune. Instead, they told bad luck to take a flying leap.

Johnson not only accentuated the positive Sunday, he eliminated the negative. And with a second-place finish, the sun seemed a bit brighter, the sky a bit bluer on a season that started out gray and gloomy.

"[There's] definitely a lot to be proud of [Sunday]," Johnson said. "Look at our pit stops on pit road, the consistent speed we had there -- the consistently fast race car that we had all day long."

Johnson said the only hitch in his day was a bad set of tires that caused the No. 48 to fall back with about 50 laps remaining. But when the car was good, it was very, very good.

Johnson and Kyle Busch both went to backup cars -- and both made significant gains as soon as the green dropped. But while Busch seemed to stall out once he got into the top 20, Johnson continued to pick off cars and move through the field.

He moved into the top 10 by Lap 60 and took the lead for the first time 39 laps later. While others complained about "dirty air" in traffic, Johnson's car seemed to thrive on it.

"I don't know what the average speed was, but we're flying around here," Johnson said. "The faster you go, the more that clean air becomes a priority. Passing for the lead was tough. I worked my way all the way through the field. [It] took me forever to get by [Kenseth] on one of those runs for the lead itself.

"Luckily, we're on a track with multiple grooves and we can move around. [But] the first car definitely has an advantage."

Still, Johnson was right in the thick of it with Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart at the end. And he had his shot at Stewart not once, but twice on late-race restarts.

He admitted he spun the tires on the first one, but thought he might have the chance to pull up even with Stewart on the second. However, Johnson realized he needed the lane that Stewart was occupying.

"I felt like I got a good [restart]," Johnson said. "He still cruised away. My only chance was to be at his outside through [Turns] 1 and 2, but I didn't have that opportunity.

"He had the lane at that point. I drove my guts out, but just didn't get it done. On the short run, there was enough parity to get something done. That's why I'm frustrated with my restarts. If I could have got to his outside on the restart, I think I had a chance."

After the debacle that was Daytona, Johnson now has finishes of fourth and second -- and is heading for Bristol, where he's had four top-five finishes (including a win in 2010) in his past six starts.

Luck? Johnson doesn't believe in it, good or bad. But he does believe in his team and his equipment. And both are starting to show signs of improvement -- something that could mean ill fortune for the competition.

"We've worked so hard over the offseason to put speed in our cars, make them comfortable and consistent so I can get in there and not be on edge while driving it," Johnson said. "We've achieved that goal. We did some early testing in Nashville and Disney World.

"[And] we saw that we had a better product. That's had me very excited."

Las Vegas Video: Race Rewind | Press Pass: Johnson | Post-Race Reactions | Final Laps

Watch highlights from the Kobalt Tools 400: