Pocono 500: Johnson seeks lopsided win
Driver wants TV audience to be bored today
Long Pond, Pa. ? If Jimmie Johnson has his way today at Pocono Raceway, 100,000 spectators and a TV of audience of millions will be terribly bored.
The polesitter for the Pocono 500 would like to sprint out to an early lead and never surrender it.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he said.
But he’s realistic enough to know leading from the green flag to the checkered is a rarity in Winston Cup racing. It hasn’t been accomplished since Jeff Burton won three years ago in New Hampshire.
Still, Johnson insists there’s no way to seriously contend on this triangular layout without being near the front.
“There really isn’t a second groove all the way around and it’s very hard to make up ground and pass people while the leader is stretching it out away from you,” he said. “It’s all about track position here.”
Although he would like to win for the third time in four weeks, Johnson has no thoughts of pushing his Chevrolet beyond its limits.
“I’m going to take what the car gives me and what the conditions are, not make any mistakes and try to come out of here with a good finish,” he said.
Even though he won the pole Friday, Johnson knows he might not even lead the first of 200 laps. To do that he will have to outrace Ryan Newman, who starts from the outside of the front row.
They staged a dramatic run for the rookie title last year. Newman got it even though Johnson won three times to one for the hard charger in the Dodge. But Johnson finished fifth in the series standings, a spot ahead of Newman.
Now, a third of the way through this season, they are among the cars to beat virtually every week.
Newman is the fastest with a series-leading four poles this year and is starting from the front row for the third straight race. He won from the pole last Sunday in Dover, Del.
“Effort equals results. That’s what Roger Penske always says,” Newman explained, referring to his car owner. “We’re finally seeing the results for the effort.”
Johnson hasn’t done badly either. He won the non-points NASCAR all-star race last month, then made it a sweep at Lowe’s Motor Speedway with a victory two weeks ago in the Coca-Cola 600. He believes this could be another Johnson-Newman showdown.
“We are both young, aggressive drivers,” the 27-year-old Johnson said. “We sort of create the same set of circumstances for ourselves.”
Newman, two years younger than Johnson, also recognizes the similarities. He even notes that both overcame early-season difficulties at about the same time.
“For a while I was struggling at the start of the race and he was struggling at the end of the race,” Newman said. “The last few weeks that’s changed for both of us.”
Johnson crashed and wound up 38th in Dover, where he swept the races last year. He fell two spots to seventh in the series standings, 339 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.