BRISTOL — Jimmie Johnson is up to his old tricks again.
The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion is off to a strong start to the 2013 season, which included his second win in the Daytona 500.
As Johnson tries to add a second win in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway to his resume’, he explained it’s no accident the No. 48 Chevrolet is so far the class of the field.
“A lot of work went into it. As we are working our way through the different styles of tracks we have been
competitive,” Johnson said. “Bristol has been tough on me years ago. It has been pretty good to me here in the last two or three years that we have come to the race track.”
Johnson alluded to the fact that Bristol Motor Speedway was a thorn in his side the first six years of his career. He recalled one time when he was significantly slower than teammate Jeff Gordon.
“I came here with the No. 24 and he literally got in my car and went three, four tenths faster than I did,” Johnson said. “I would look at his data, get back in and couldn’t find the speed. It didn’t fit my natural tendencies inside of a race car.
“I think the new surface has helped. It has come my direction some, just constant focus on getting better here.
I finally started driving the track right, which allowed us
to start working on the set up. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be driving the track all wrong through practice and qualifying and I would get in the race, get into the correct rhythm and now the car isn’t even close to being set up how it needed to be. Over time, we have found a good baseline place to start.”
Overall at BMS, he has 13 top-10 finishes in 22 career starts, but five finishes outside the top-30. Since figuring out the high-banked track, however, Johnson has seven top-10 finishes over the last eight races.
“It’s nice to walk through the tunnel and emerge inside the race track with a smile on my face because for years I would walk in here with a frown,” said the El Cajon, Calif. native. “Although I love the race track I just wouldn’t run very good and it makes for a long weekend.”
There aren’t too many long weekends for Johnson, whose 61 career victories rank him eighth on NASCAR’s all-time win list. Although he’s the early-season favorite to win a sixth championship, it’s definitely not a guarantee.
He found out last season how tough the competition can be when Brad Keselowski overtook him for the title.
“The competition has always been there. I think the faces have changed,” Johnson said. “I think Brad has shown that he and that team are going to be a familiar face up there week in and week out and year after year.”
“We have been able to stay in and around the top spot for the 10 years, 11 years we have been around which is
staggering to me that we have had that type of staying power. So, I’m very proud of that. Again, the
faces might change, but it’s the sought after place to be.”