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Johnson just wants to survive Bristol

March 15th, 2014 8:02 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Johnson just wants to survive Bristol

BRISTOL ---— Jimmie Johnson has made his reputation by winning with 66 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories.

Yet when it comes to today’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the six-time NASCAR champion has less ambitious goals.

“I just want to survive this place,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “We did get our win in 2010 and we have been able to run consistently in the top five. That is truthfully our goal.” 

Johnson was referring to his win in the 2010 Food City 500, his only victory in 24 Sprint Cup starts on the high-banked short track. By comparison, Johnson has eight wins in 24 starts at Martinsville, the Cup Series’ other half-mile track.

While he and crew chief Chad Knaus consistently have one of the fastest cars at Martinsville, it sometimes takes a few adjustments to run well at Bristol.

“This track really is difficult on me and Chad and the team through practice and qualifying,” Johnson said. ”Then in the race, we seem to find our way. A lot of that falls on my shoulders.  I feel like this track for me, it just takes the repetition of laps to find a rhythm and to find the half a tenth or so that I need to really be in the game.”

The 38-year-old Charlotte resident isn’t worried he’s not won one of the first three race which pretty much ensures an automatic bid into this year’s “Chase for the Championship.” He looks more at being third in the point standings. Once you get past the automatic bids, the rest of the Chase field will be filled out with points leaders. 

Ironically, the best stock car racer of his generation is uncomfortable using some of the rough-and-tumble tactics which Bristol is famous for. 

Johnson, who grew up racing motocross and off-road trucks, is more about precision.

“Some drivers have grown up in stock cars and in environments where you use the bumper to move someone and it’s second nature,” Johnson said. ”It’s not the environment that I came out of and I think the same for Kasey (Kahne) if you go through his background and the types of cars he raced. You don’t bump, you don’t touch and I have found personally that it takes me longer to set up a bump-and-run. It’s a delicate touch to get in there and to move somebody in the right way. I waste more time doing that than it does to get inside of them to try to pass them.”

While a fierce competitor, the bump-and-run goes against the 38-year-old Charlotte resident’s Mr. Nice Guy reputation. Although he’s seen Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and successfully others use the tactic, it’s not the way he wants to race.

“There are some guys that are comfortable and used to it,” he said.  “If I have to I will, but I am probably going to be saying I’m sorry after.”

There have been a few high-profile run-ins with drivers like the Busch brothers, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya. For the most part, however,  Johnson has been able to maintain a squeaky clean image.

“I mean you race people how you are raced and vice versa,” he said.  “There is usually not a lot of contact between myelf and other cars and it’s been that way since I’ve entered the sport.”

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