The Rolling Stones couldn’t have had Jimmie Johnson in mind when they wrote their 1964 hit, “Time Is On My Side,” as Johnson wouldn’t be born for another 11 years. However, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion could be the poster boy for the song these days. He is quickly amassing one of the largest collections of time pieces known to man, thanks to his success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where the victory lane trophy is a grandfather clock.
The series visits the paper-clip-shaped track for Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 where Johnson has seven wins, tying Dover (Del.) International Speedway for his career-best total at a single track on the circuit. He is third on the all-time win list at Martinsville, tied with Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon. Only Richard Petty, with 15, and Darrell Waltrip, with 11, have more. A win Sunday, however, would make him the winningest active driver at the half-mile oval.
Not surprisingly, Johnson holds the series’ best driver rating for the track and has finished outside the top-10 only three times in 22 races. Surprisingly, two of those uncharacteristic finishes outside the top-10 occurred during the past two spring races, when Johnson finished 12th and 11th, respectively. He rebounded during his fall returns to Martinsville, winning in 2012 and finishing second in 2011. Not too shabby for someone who has said he struggled at the circuit’s smallest track early in his career.
Uncharacteristic finishes aside, Johnson knows how to get around the half-mile oval. The question is, will time be on his side Sunday? Johnson and Team Lowe’s Racing hope the answer is, “Yes it is. Yes it is.”
Johnson’s Martinsville Quick Stats:
• Seven wins (October 2012, April 2009, October 2008, April and October 2007, October 2006, October 2004) in 22 starts. The total is a career best and ties Johnson’s total at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
• Johnson can move into sole possession of third place on the all-time Martinsville wins list with a win Sunday. He is currently tied with Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon with seven wins. Richard Petty is first with 15 wins, followed by Darrell Waltrip with 11.
• Five of Johnson’s Martinsville victories occurred during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
• Two poles (October 2012 and April 2006).
• 15 top-five finishes (68.2 percent) and 19 top-10s (86.4 percent) in 22 starts.
• In 22 races, has finished outside the top-10 only three times (12th in April 2012; 11th in April 2011, 35th in April 2002).
• Average start is 11.9 and average finish is 5.5.
• One DNF (Did Not Finish) – April 2002.
• Has completed 10,980 of 11,034 laps (99.5 percent) and led 1,981.
• Sprint Cup’s best driver rating (122.3 average of a possible 150 points).
• Sprint Cup’s second-best in fastest laps run (802).
• Sprint Cup’s best in most laps in the top-15 with 7,349 (91.5 percent).
• Sprint Cup’s best green-flag speed of 91.503 mph.
• Sprint Cup’s best in quality passes with 583.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports:
What is your outlook going into Martinsville?
“Martinsville is just a quirky track. Once I figured out how to drive it – and, frankly, once Tony Stewart lapped me there in my sophomore year – it just made sense how to drive the track and I’ve had it ever since. From my first year at Martinsville, I never thought I’d have a stat to take down, let alone a stat that I’d ever have a chance to take down. (Note: a victory this week at Martinsville will give Johnson eight wins, which would be more than any other active Sprint Cup driver.) With the new racecars, I think contact is going to be a question mark for me. We have fiberglass panels and stuff, now, where it used to all be steel. I’ve seen some crash damage after just a small impact where they had to cut the nose completely off the car. So that could be the issue come race time there. Some minor contact could cause major cosmetic damage. Brakes will be the same old story. It will be the same old thing. This car has adequate cooling and has adequate flow, so I don’t see where there will be any issues with brakes.”
Since Martinsville is not a downforce track, is that a place you can take last year’s notes with this new car and make it work?
“Yeah, definitely. Martinsville, gosh, it has been the same stuff and it’s been here for a long time. It’s nice to go back to those tracks. It doesn’t matter what shape or design is on the exterior. The mechanical grip aspect is still the same.”
How important is it to get off to the quick start you are having?
“I think it’s important. I have been so fortunate to not need to worry about Richmond and making the Chase and, hopefully, it stays that way. Leaving Daytona in a hole is something we have grown accustomed to. It takes seven, eight weeks to get back up in the top-five in points. A quick start is important. It frees up the first half of the year for you. You can preserve the test sessions that we are allowed to have at real racetracks on the tire we’re going to race on. You can focus on inventory of your racecars, which we are all behind with the Gen-6 car. Just get your car allotment built up, which is very important to do at this stage. Instead of cutting up existing cars and rebuilding stuff, and on and on, it’s important to get off to a quick start. It helps lighten the work load for everybody.”
Jimmie Johnson NASCAR Sprint Cup Career Statistics:
•Johnson has 61 wins in his Sprint Cup career, his most recent coming in the 55th Daytona 500 Feb. 24 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
•El Cajon, Calif., native Johnson is eighth on NASCAR’s all-time wins list, trailing Dale Earnhardt, who is seventh with 76 wins.
•He is second in total wins among active drivers behind Jeff Gordon (87).
•Johnson needed only 296 starts to hit the 50-win mark. Only three drivers have reached 50 victories sooner – Gordon (232), Darrell Waltrip (278) and David Pearson (293).
•Of the 23 tracks on which the series competes, Johnson has won Sprint Cup races at all but five – Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
•Johnson’s 10 wins in 2007 was the highest number recorded in a single season since Gordon posted 13 victories in 1998.
•Johnson earned his fourth Brickyard 400 victory July 29, 2012, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tying him with Jeff Gordon as the winningest driver in the famed race. Johnson and Gordon also are tied for second on the all-time Indianapolis Motor Speedway win list with four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. Seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher is the track’s all-time leader with five United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis victories.
•Johnson has collected 29 poles in his Sprint Cup career.
•He earned at least one pole per year in the first 10 years of his full-time career.
•He had a career-high six poles in 2008.
•Johnson’s most recent pole position was Nov. 2, 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
•Johnson has finished in the top-10 in the Sprint Cup point standings each year since his first full season in 2002 and in the top-five in 10 of those 11 years.
•Johnson is the only driver to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup every year since the format was adopted in 2004.
•In 404 Sprint Cup starts, Johnson has posted 168 top-five finishes and 251 top-10s.
•He has a top-five finish at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit.
•In 116,193 laps run in his Sprint Cup career, Johnson has led a total of 13,940 laps, covering more than 154,815.1 miles.
•He has finished on the lead lap 313 times.