There is a photo in Jimmie Johnson’s new book, “On The Road,” that shows Johnson up against his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet after the October NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. His head is down as he wipes the sweat from his forehead, smoke from Tony Stewart’s victory burnout swirls behind him. Johnson named the photo “Smoked.” (Stewart’s nickname is Smoke.)
Johnson notes in the photo caption that, while battling for the win was something he would normally relish with his friend and fellow competitor, he was maybe a little less aggressive than normal. After a wreck at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway two weekends before, Johnson’s title hopes were dimming with Stewart quickly establishing himself as a clear contender, and being aggressive wasn’t something Johnson felt was appropriate. Stewart went on to win his third title while Johnson’s impressive streak of five consecutive championships would come to an end.
One year later, Johnson returns to the .526-mile paperclip-shaped Martinsville oval for Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 having established himself as a clear contender for this year’s title. Currently second in points, he would like nothing more than to add to his grandfather clock collection (the race trophy) as he returns to the smallest track on the circuit but from where his trophy haul is arguably the biggest. Johnson has six wins in 21 Martinsville starts and owns the highest driver rating in the series (121.4 average of a possible 150 points).
Most impressive is his consistency in top-10 finishes. In 21 races run at Martinsville, he has finished outside the top-10 only three times – a 35th-place finish in his first race in April 2002, an 11th-place run last April and a 12th-place finish earlier this year. Johnson credits watching his teammate Jeff Gordon make laps at the paper clip-shaped oval with helping him figure out what he needed to do to “get around the track better.” His 14 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes should put to rest any doubts that the five-time champion has figured it out.
With a six-pack (what Johnson has dubbed his run for a sixth title) on the line, Johnson knows he doesn’t need another grandfather clock to tell him time is running out to accomplish just that. Not getting “Smoked” this time at Martinsville would certainly help.
Jimmie Johnson’s Martinsville Sprint Cup Race Notes of Interest:
•Six wins (October 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and April 2007, 2009).
•One pole (October 2008).
•14 top-five finishes (66.7 percent) and 18 top-10s (85.7 percent) in 21 starts.
•One DNF (did not finish – April 2002).
•Average start of 12.4 and average finish of 5.8.
•Sprint Cup’s second-best in fastest laps run (742).
•Sprint Cup’s best in most laps in the top-15 with 6,854 (91 percent).
•Completed 10,480 of 10,534 laps (99.5 percent) and led 1,788.
•Sprint Cup’s best green-flag speed of 91.456 mph.
•Sprint Cup’s best in quality passes (542).
•Sprint Cup’s best driver rating (121.4 average of a possible 150 points).
•Leads all drivers this season with 1,358 of a possible 9,021 laps led (15.05 percent). Denny Hamlin is second with 1,168 laps led (12.95 percent).
•Johnson remained second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship after his ninth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City Sunday in the sixth of 10 races in the 2012 Chase. He remains seven points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
•To date in 2012, Johnson has three wins, two poles, 16 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s in 32 races.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
On going to Martinsville:
“I feel good. I really do. The track in practice and qualifying; the track isn’t what we race. If anything, we get a little frustrated through practice and then our qualifying effort usually isn’t what we want. But, when they drop the green flag and we are racing, we usually go the right direction and I know it’s been a good track for us. It’s also good for the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin). The No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) should be strong there, too, but he’s a bit back in points and I guess the No. 24 is, too. But there’s maybe a chance to pick some (points) up on the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski). I’m not sure what his record is there but I don’t remember seeing him up front a lot, so there might be a good opportunity. But, at the same time, I don’t want to count those guys out. They’ve shown up each and every weekend and shown a lot of speed in a lot of situations. I’m excited for it, but I know a couple of other guys are, too.”
Are you looking forward to racing at Martinsville this weekend?
“Yeah, I am. It should be a good track for us. We did the 2013 test a month or so ago, so we’ve been on the track recently. And, granted, the cars aren’t the same so it will be different, but at lease we’ve had some laps on the track. We’ve done a little short-track testing that should pay off and make us more competitive. So, as excited as I am, I know also that the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) is and I have to assume the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) is pretty charged up to go. But, either way, I feel like it’s a good opportunity for us to get points and, hopefully if we’re not in the points lead, we can get awfully close to it or take it there.”
What makes you so good at Martinsville? Your rhythm? Your style? What?
“I wouldn’t say the rhythm fits, and it took me a while to sort it out. But I do well on low-grip tracks and that track doesn’t have much grip, and you really have to drive the car and finesse it in some ways and then attack in others. It took me actually getting lapped by Tony Stewart years ago, and then following him after he lapped me, and the light went off in my head. I went, ‘Oh, that’s how I’m supposed to get around this place.’ And since, I’ve been good.”
Jimmie Johnson NASCAR Sprint Cup Career Statistics:
•Johnson has 58 wins in his Sprint Cup career, his most recent coming July 29 at Indianapolis Motor 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 (86).
•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 has collected 27 poles in his Sprint Cup career.
•With the exception of 2011, Johnson has won a pole in every year of his full-time Sprint Cup career.
•He had a career-high six poles in 2008.
•Johnson’s most recent pole position was Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
•Johnson has finished in the top-10 in the Sprint Cup Series point standings each year since his first full-time season in 2002 and in the top-five in nine of those 10 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 395 Sprint Cup starts, Johnson has posted 164 top-five finishes and 246 top-10s.
•He has led 13,470 laps of a possible 113,372 for 151,550.7 miles and has finished on the lead lap 307 times.
•He has a top-five finish at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit.
•Johnson was named by Forbes in 2011 and 2012 as its Most Influential Athlete in the U.S.
•In 2009, Johnson became the first and only racecar driver to be named Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in its 80-year history.
•Voted Driver of the Year four times in his career (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010), joining Gordon as the only other four-time winner of the prestigious honor.
•Johnson has won an ESPY for Best Driver four times – 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.