Jimmie Johnson 'confident' coming to Martinsville
March 28, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – According to track records, NASCAR records and perhaps the Greater Henry County Historical Society, Jimmie Johnson does not win every time the Sprint Cup Series competes at Martinsville Speedway.
But you would be hard-pressed to find another track where the Hendrick Motorsports driver has enjoyed better results.
He’s an eight-time winner on the distinctive 0.526-mile track – a high-water mark he shares with teammate Jeff Gordon. His average finish, in 24 career starts, is 5.3, tops among active drivers.
He’s finished outside the top 10 only three times. Ever. Two of those were 11th and 12th place results. He was 35th back in 2002, before he won his first race and before he won the first of six Cup championships.
So it’s not exactly breaking news when Johnson, 38, says he is looking forward to Sunday’s STP 500, stop No. 6 for the series this season.
"With this being our first trip to Martinsville with the 2014 package, I’m very confident," Johnson said Friday morning. "I know that I know the track, Chad knows the track, and we’ll figure it out. But I don’t know how we will unload.
"Last year coming in here we had a refined package, we knew exactly where we would be, played the game the way we needed to … we had a good feel for things. There’s a bit of uncertainty, some questions we need to answer today out on the track.
"But no doubt, from a mental aspect of walking into a track from a team or driver’s standpoint, when you’re walking into a track where you’ve won a bunch, it does put a little spring in your step."
Five races into the 2014 season have seen five different race winners. After opening the new year with three consecutive top-10s (fifth, sixth and sixth), Johnson and the No. 48 team were 19th and 24th at Bristol Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, the last two stops.
That’s hardly indicative of the team’s strength, however. Johnson led 44 laps at Bristol and 104 at ACS. In both races, tire issues relegated Johnson to also-ran status, the most recent knocking him out of the lead late in the race.
A seven-race winless stretch, dating back to the final two races of 2013, is hardly anything to get worked up about for a team and driver that have visited Victory Lane 66 times through the years.
"It’s not uncommon," he said, "for us to get a little deeper into the season before we start winning. Statistically, I think the end of the year is where we heat up the most. … We’ve got a good track (record) here, Dover’s coming up soon. There are a lot of good opportunities for us coming along.
"With the new rules package … I think that’s what has allowed the five different winners. It’s just a challenge right now to find out what you need, what you want. … There is a lot of parity out there right now."