Johnson Searches for Winning Formula
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on March 17, 2011 | 10:00 A.M. EST
"We’re working with a different mindset at the start of the season, seeing if there is anything there." (Photo: Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson’s start to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been mediocre by the five-time champion’s standards.
With three races in the book Johnson has yet to visit victory lane and has finishes of 27th and 16th to his credit.
Johnson attributes some of the performance to the work done inside the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team over the winter months in preparation for the 2011 season.
“This offseason, we worked hard to reinvent our mousetrap, make it faster and more grip and work in some areas that we didn’t overlook, but we didn’t see a lot of gains in the past,” Johnson said. “Maybe we didn’t go far enough. We’re working with a different mindset at the start of the season, seeing if there is anything there. At times we see speed and hope. Other times, we haven’t.”
The last race before the first break of the season in Las Vegas bears out Johnson’s assessment. At a track where Johnson has dominated in recent years, he was never a factor for the race win and at one point found himself a lap down to the field.
There were similar issues the week before in Phoenix and although Johnson finished third at the desert track, he recognizes there are issues that need to be addressed.
“We didn’t have the consistent weekend from start to finish that we wanted, but at different points in the race, especially later in the race, we had a competitive car,” Johnson said. “Phoenix, we finished third. Vegas, worked our way into the top ten, rebounded from just a miss on the setup because we’re still developing our cars.
“Without testing, we’re bringing a lot of new stuff to the track. (Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) made some great adjustments on the car and go into the top ten and then we had some issues late in the race and we faded back. I left there really disappointed we didn’t finish inside the top ten.”
Johnson looks to rid himself of that disappointment this week at Bristol Motor Speedway where in his last four starts he has a win in last season’s spring race and a pair of top-five finishes.
“I’m just excited to go back to Bristol,” Johnson said. “I think we were in position in the fall race to fight for the win and race with Kyle (Busch). I feel good. After we won in the spring and coming back in the fall, just didn’t want to be too full of myself. Wanted to be able to go there and run well, but we backed it up there in the fall and had an awesome weekend. Unfortunately we crashed late in the race on the back straightaway.”
Johnson comes into the weekend 12th in the point standings and despite some early season challenges is confident a return to Bristol and a solid performance will keep things moving forward in his quest for a sixth-straight title.
“Looking forward to going back,” Johnson said. “We’re sitting decent in the points, but a good run at Bristol would move us in the right direction in the points.”