Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Hampshire, Texas on Jimmie Johnson's NASCAR checklist

Jimmie Johnson begins his quest for an unprecedented fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this weekend. He has won four straight in the Chase format and became the first Cup driver to win four championships in a row. He is tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon with four overall Cup championships. Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty won a Cup record seven championships each.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 kicks off the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Johnson was asked if there are any races on the schedule that present any challenges. Johnson said there are a couple, New Hampshire and Texas in particular.
“In the Chase, when the championship is on the line, I feel really good about the tracks in the Chase,” Johnson said. “I think that New Hampshire, we need to be a little bit better there, although we finished, I think, in the top-five. We haven’t won there in a while and it would be nice to start to narrow in on that to start the Chase strong. I think we could send one hell of a message to the garage area if we could come out and win the first race of the Chase.”
Johnson won four of the 10 races in the Chase last year. He won at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Dover, Phoenix and Charlotte. In the past four years of the Chase, Johnson has not won at New Hampshire.
“So looking that far ahead, I would say that is one track in the Chase that we really need to zero in on,” Johnson said. “I would say Texas in the past, but we have done a really good job of understanding Texas and being competitive there. I feel good about those tracks.”
Outside of the Chase, Johnson said he would like to improve at Bristol Motor Speedway. Infineon Raceway in Sonoma and Watkins Glen International, the two road courses on the Cup schedule, have given him problems as well.
“Before the Chase I still look at Bristol, I look at the road course races. That is just kind of a personal thing to me,” Johnson said. “I’m running much better at those tracks and much more competitive, that is just something that is under my skin, I need to win at those tracks in my mind. Other than that, I think it is about winning races. We need to win races, to make sure we are in a comfortable position in the Chase. That is our goal starting the season.”
If anything, seeing what his teammate Mark Martin had to go through to make the Chase last year has Johnson not taking anything for granted.
“We want to win races and win a lot of them and I would love to roll in to Richmond and have ourselves locked in to the Chase, ideally, a race or so out,” Johnson said. “To watch what Mark Martin and that team went through last year, three or four months out being as far behind as they were and to fight all the way in, it took a lot out of them. If possible, I don’t want to be in that position, so winning races is what it is all about.”

Photo: Four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was voted as the favorite to win another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the annual preseason media poll. (Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

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