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Jimmie Johnson and Team Lowe’s Racing have been flying high since their visit to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June. Johnson dominated that day, leading a race-high 128 laps on his way to winning from the pole.
Except for a tire that went down during the final lap as he was running down the leader at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn the following weekend, leading to a 28th-place finish, Johnson has placed no worse than ninth in every race since Pocono in June. He arguably has seen a pair of wins slip away at Kentucky and Indianapolis, but was able to find victory lane at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, pulling off a season sweep at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ “home” track.
His lead in the series’ driver standings continues to grow, now 75 points over second-place Clint Bowyer and 182 ahead of 11th. His four wins this season currently make him the top seed for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Matt Kenseth also has four wins, but Johnson wins the tiebreaker with a next-best finish of second to Kenseth’s next-best finish of fifth.
Johnson sports a special paint scheme on his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS for this weekend’s return visit to Pocono featuring the characters from Disney’s Planes. His convincing showing at the “Tricky Triangle” in June, coupled with a runner-up and nearly victorious run Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is often an indicator of good runs to come at Pocono, Johnson could be flying high once again this weekend.
Do you feel comfortable with where you are with the Gen-6 car right now?
“Yeah, I mean, I feel like we have some clarity right now in what the car likes and what it wants, and really that’s the only thing that we as a team go by and really any team does. There are a lot of times when you work on your stuff and you test and you race and you build some theories, and that’s all we do week in and week out as to why the car is tight or why it’s loose. Sometimes your theories play out and you’re smart and you’re here in victory lane and other times they don’t. I feel like we have a clearer vision now of what the car wants, what this Gen‑6 car wants, and we’re getting smarter and smarter with it, and that leads into stretches where you can click off the wins and the finishes. Excited to have some clarity, right now. I think we understand that our package, regardless if it’s a short track or big track and even superspeedway, we’ve been awfully good there, too, so we have clarity right now, and as long as we can keep it, we’ll be in good shape.”
In the June race at Pocono, it seemed like you were getting through turn three pretty well. Was that the case?
“I knew I was faster there. I’m not sure what or why, but I could yard guys real good through turn three. In years past, I’ve learned a line and a rhythm to that corner that’s been useful. A lot of available grip with the fresh repave, and I think it’s kind of come my way, coming back to the old way turn three used to work for me, and that’s the way I drove it that day. Just got to be smart with it. But I think our car was rolling all three corners pretty good. In fuel‑saving mode, I could get a nice gap off of three and manage my fuel the rest of the way around the track. And guys would kind of inch back up to me and then I’d blister three again and get my gap and they’d slowly catch up due to fuel savings.”