Johnson Searching for Charlotte Magic

J.Johnson

Johnson is looking for his fourth win in the Memorial Day Weekend Coca-Cola 600. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Jimmie Johnson hopes to recapture the previous success he's enjoyed at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a strong run in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The five-time champion used to call the 1.5-mile track his “house” after an impressive streak that has seen him in Victory Lane six times during his career.  But things have not gone quite as well for Johnson in recent years.  His last Charlotte win came in 2009.

Johnson has one answer as to why the No. 48 team has faced more of a challenge of late.

“When they repaved it, it changed things a lot,” he said.  “I think around that point in time, the new-generation tire was coming out.  Then we ended up with a new car and that really kind of eliminated the advantage we had.

“We knew how balanced the car needed to be when the sun was out.  We had adjustability built into the car at every stop.  If I wanted it or not, we had a proven track - a proven road to go down - that we made these adjustments and we could stay competitive.  Then, when it came time to race for the win at the end, we had the car we needed and won a lot of races that way.”

Johnson’s Charlotte woes continued last Saturday night in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race - where try as he might, he could not run down eventual winner Carl Edwards despite feeling he had a car capable of winning the $1 million race.

However, Johnson says there’s no time to dwell on the past; and that he and crew chief Chad Knaus learned enough from the experience to help the cause in Sunday night’s "600."

“We've always had a thing that come Monday, we've got to move on and that's still part of the 48's system,” Johnson said.  “Good or bad, you move on and start working on the next race.  We look back on the laps we made in the All-Star event and how competitive we were, and feel good about what we're taking to the '600.'  I know some small changes we're going to make, and I feel confident about our car and where we are with our mile-and-a-half program.”

But that still doesn’t completely help Johnson get past the disappointment of not being able to end Saturday night with the million-dollar payday.

“Part of my frustration the other night was (that) I felt like we had a shot at that million bucks and we made so much progress on the big tracks, and it didn't come together,” Johnson said.  “It's just part of racing.  There's usually 42 unhappy drivers and one happy guy, and I was in that 42 this last weekend.”

Johnson plans to be that one happy guy come Sunday and compete for the win in the season’s longest race.  But he’s been in enough Coca-Cola 600s in his career to know the challenge is not an easy one.

“The key is just really staying on the road all night long," Johnson said.  "It's a very long race, as we all know, with it being 600 miles and you just can't get caught up in things that happen too early.  You can have trouble and there's plenty of time to recover.

“The track changes a lot.  The night is ever-changing and if you keep your head in the game, and you stick around for the 600 miles, you're going to have a good finish.  Being smart all night long is going to be the key.”

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