CHARLOTTE, NC – Seven-Time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson faces having a new race car (the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1) and a changing Hendrick Motorsports organization. As the seasoned and senior driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, a leadership role emerges, even if last year’s performance was not up to the team’s usual standards. He talked with the press at the annual Charlotte Media Tour being held this week in Charlotte.
“I went from the young gun. Every time I’d see my name written, it was Rookie Jimmie Johnson,” he said. “Now I’m grandpa. It’s gone fast.”
Many have looked for reasons why the so-called Super Team didn’t do as well or win as many races as many thought they would. Jimmie’s theory comes down to execution.
“For us, last year I think we had the right approach entering the season. We just, unfortunately, couldn’t execute like we needed to. This year with all the changes going on internally at Hendrick Motorsports, the debut of the new Camaro for us, I think we’re going to have a better product. I know we’re going to have a better product on the racetrack,” Johnson said.
“In order to capitalize on all those points, you’ve got to start towards the front. I’ve made a great career out of winning from deep in the field or the back. But the way these points work, that’s just not the case. We need to qualify better.
We definitely tried last year. Just, unfortunately, couldn’t get there. I feel that this year we’ll have a better product. I should be able to start closer to the front and make that a lot easier.”
Johnson’s teammates, William Byron, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott are close to half his age, but with youth comes enthusiasm, and that’s a trait the “grandpas” have a rough time generating. It’s in good supply at HMS and Johnson thinks that is a valuable thing. He hasn’t given up hope on that eighth championship, either.
“Enthusiasm? Without a doubt. That fresh blood brings great excitement and it also brings just a different vantage point,” Johnson explained. “When you look at William, for the longest time, like using our simulator, I watch something happen with another driver, that’s just a gaming way to go about it, you can’t do that in the real world. Well, it’s starting to happen in the real world. That new vantage point is really helpful.”
A new body style car throws a curve at any organization, but Johnson sees the work paying off in the new season. He explains.
“The effort has been massive to get this right and be as good as we can be,” Johnson said. “But with testing being so minimal, for myself, there’s going to be an adaptation period. I need to understand the side force, how hard I can lean on it. You climb out of the gas, with less downforce, how much it slows down. Trying to find the sweet spot with the car, some minor handling characteristics that go with it.
“Atlanta, it’s such an abrasive track, and the drivers’ style, so many other things play into the performance there, I think we’ll get a flavor of where we sit. Once we get to the West Coast swing, I think that will really tell us where we sit.”
Will he buy the Carolina Panthers, the NFL team that is for sale in Charlotte?
“No, my pockets aren’t that deep. I don’t think they can look at me.”