Jimmie Johnson. (HHP/Tom Copeland)

Johnson: ‘Can’t Slip And Slide This Car Around Like I Like To Do’

For the first time since the season opening Daytona 500, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is back in the saddle.

This weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, marks Johnson’s fifth race in the Next Gen race car. The lack of experience in NASCAR’s current Cup Series car, presents a variety of challenges for the NASCAR Hall of Famer. 

Speaking to the media on Saturday, Johnson admitted the car “is really, really different,” compared to the previous Cup Series cars he’s piloted during his 19-year full-time career. 

“I think the first 80 percent is normal, maybe 90 percent,” Johnson began. “But that last little bit and where you run the car – I spent a lifetime running a car off the right rear. This car you just cannot do that. 

“From the aero platform, the tire and I believe the sidewall stiffness of the tire, you can’t slip and slide this car around like I like to do. It got me in Charlotte (Motor Speedway) – the last mile-and-a-half I was on in Charlotte – it got out front under me and I crashed.”

In all three of his starts last year, Johnson crashed or was involved in an accident that knocked him out of the race. 

“I kept telling myself coming into this weekend that I need to drive off the right front, and you drive through the right front and not my typical style of driving on or through the right-rear tire,” Johnson said. “This track is really treacherous, and it is nice to see it widening out.”

While Texas has been one of Johnson’s top tracks during his prolific career as he holds the track record with seven wins at the 1.5-mile oval, the track is completely different.

Ahead of the 2017 season, Texas underwent a repave, altering a once bumpy and technical race track. 

“In the previous configuration, that was really the most fun you could have on a mile-and-a-half was turns one and two,” Johnson said. “Bummed that it’s still not there, but it is the same for everybody – it is what it is. 

“The track, where I’ve had my most success, is a track that you could run from line to wall. The bumps were in the worst place possible, but that was great and that created mistakes for the drivers and technical challenge for the teams, and I thought it made it where you really had to race the race track.”

As far as this weekend is concerned, questions have loomed whether Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 will promote side-by-side racing or limited passing.

After Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, Johnson is optimistic for multi-groove racing. 

“I think last night with the truck race. We had some reports back with how the second groove was coming in and hopefully we are on the right pathway now to really start working in the middle of the track and widening this place out, and just go out and have some fun,” Johnson concluded. 

He’ll start 37th on Sunday after crashing in practice.