JIMMIE JOHNSON’S SIXTH SENSE
Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the
entire No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports
squad are well into a full-on assault on the
NASCAR record book.
With six Sprint Cup championships
under his belt, Johnson is a legitimate
threat to eclipse the seven titles won by
Richard Petty and the late Dale
Earnhardt. But one record Johnson is
unlikely ever to match is Petty’s seven
Daytona 500 victories.
In 12 Daytona 500 starts, Johnson
does have two victories, winning in 2006
and again in 2013, but his average finish
in the Great American Race is just 19. 25.
From 2007 to ’ 12, the years between
Johnson’s bookend victories, that
average was a dismal 33. 50.
Part of the reason for the numbers is
the sheer nature of racing at restrictor-plate tracks in recent years. During
Petty’s reign, the slingshot pass ruled,
with the second car in line using the
aerodynamic draft of the lead car to
punch a huge hole in the air, allowing the
second car to pull out and pass. In recent
HIT OR MISS IN THE DAYTONA 500
opportunities to pass. You can’t do it
alone. So it’s far different than any other
racing we do.”
And, it must be added, when you’re
Jimmie Johnson, not too many other
drivers want to help you to Victory Lane.
That’s just how it is.
Then there’s the time factor: With the
Daytona 500 being the first race each
year, teams spend all winter building
and massaging their cars.
“When you put us here at the biggest
race, the Daytona 500, everybody brings
their A-game,” says Johnson. “It’s the
most difficult race to win.”
But most of all, restrictor-plate racing
is far more random than competing at
conventional tracks. How else does one
explain Trevor Bayne winning the 2011
Daytona 500 in only his second Sprint
Cup start, or lightly regarded David
Ragan and David Gilliland running 1-2
at Talladega last spring?
“Man, it’s like playing the lottery,”
confirms Johnson ruefully. “Everybody’s
got a ticket.”
Restrictor plate races nullify the brilliance of Johnson. Now and again, though, luck’s been on his side…
years, the way to win at plate tracks is to
draft in tandem, one car pushing another
to the front.
“The draft and the way you race at
Daytona and Talladega is much different
than anywhere else,” says Johnson. “It
takes vehicles around you to create
“From ’07 to ’ 12, the years
between his Daytona wins,
Johnson’s average finish
there was a dismal 33. 5”
A current-spec Daytona 500 is
a crapshoot in which Jimmie
Johnson’s talents can rarely make
the difference. But in 2013 (ABOVE)
fate smiled on him for a second time.