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CONCORD, N.C. — The tougher the conditions, the better for Jimmie Johnson.
It’s why the five-time NASCAR champion is excited to race with the new Gen-6 Chevy SS race car this season. Johnson pointed out the last time NASCAR debuted a new car in the Sprint Cup Series, the “Car of Tomorrow,” he had unparalleled success.
“The more difficult the cars are to drive, the more difficult the tracks are from a design standpoint, the better I do,” Johnson said at the 31st annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour. “I think that goes back to my off-road roots. You couldn’t adjust an off-road truck. You just worried about jumping, going straight and then turn at the end of the jumps to go back the other way.
“I think that’s helped me with weird handling cars and tracks people don’t like. It might not fit my driving style, but when I look back to the Monte Carlo era and we had all the downforce, we were able to succeed. I know it’s in me somewhere. I might have to dust it off to find it again.”
The new car is narrower and 150 pounds lighter, which makes it easier to drive according to Johnson. While the “Car of Tomorrow” was a big box, busting through the wind, this new machine is more streamlined.
“The aero balance is more forgiving. That’s NASCAR’s intent to give us more side-by-side racing,” said the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet. “The car is more comfortable with all the downforce. The back of the car, the geometry of the car is much different than before. All in all, it’s a different car, but I feel really comfortable in it.”
Johnson, one of only eight drivers in NASCAR history with 60 or more Sprint Cup wins, hasn’t always been comfortable the last few years. He racked up five straight championships from 2006-10, but didn’t realize how tough it was on himself and the rest of the team until it was over.
“I feel through the five years there was some pressure on me I didn’t know until the streak ended,” he said. “That 2011 season, we didn’t have the performance we hoped for in the Chase, so that put pressure on us last year. But starting this year, I feel good. I’m excited with a clear mind. I’m not worried about a streak, just ready to go. We’ve got a lot of good things going on. I have no baggage, just ready to go racing.”
Johnson lost the 2012 championship after leading with two races to go and finished third in the standings after poor finishes at Phoenix and Homestead. Still, the five-time champion is not discouraged. He liked the fact his team won five races, which tied him with champion Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for most in the series last season.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the big trophy to show for it, but we had a great year,” Johnson said. “I beat myself up over 2011 because we weren’t even contenders. That hurt more than being at Homestead and it not playing out. All I want to is to have a shot, to be competitive and be in the mix. As a driver, that’s all you can ask for.”