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One of the most famous “curses” in sports may be in Major League Baseball involving legendary Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, nicknamed the Bambino, and the Boston Red Sox. When Boston sold Ruth to the New York Yankees, the Red Sox, who had won numerous World Series titles previously, went winless for decades while the Yankees went on to win multiple titles. The “curse” was lifted after 86 years when Boston won the World Series in 2004, but the curse remains one of the more widely known in sports.
Jimmie Johnson had a bit of a curse going last year, albeit not as lengthy or widely known, on the Sprint Cup Series’ restrictor-plate tracks. Thanks to accidents or DNFs (did not finish) inflicted by other means, Johnson was 0-for-2012 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He was credited with finishing last October’s race at Talladega, but was involved in a last-lap accident. This season, however, the five-time champion seems to have reversed the curse. In February, he got his 2013 campaign off to a successful start by not only finishing, but winning, the sport’s biggest race – the Daytona 500. He followed that up in May with a fifth-place finish at Talladega.
A return visit to Daytona is on the agenda for this weekend. The track ranks as one of Johnson’s top-five worst, statistically. He has only two top-five finishes in the July race – second-place finishes in 2004 and 2009. He has never won the race, which typically falls during the July 4 holiday weekend. However, the man they call “five-time” is halfway there in countering last year’s curse. If he finishes Saturday night’s 400-mile event, only October’s Talladega race remains on the restrictor-plate-race schedule. If he is able to break the curse, like the 2004 Red Sox finally did, perhaps it will all end with a championship celebration at the end of the year.
Now that you have two restrictor-plate races under your belt in the Chevrolet SS, what are your thoughts on the type of racing that will happen at Daytona this weekend?
“It’s a shorter race and at night, so it will carry through any handling issues that maybe exist. I really feel like the vehicle, itself, at Daytona, we can’t get away from one another and the side-drafting is so big that it created some of the racing we saw in February. I thought Talladega was much more exciting due to the fact the track was wider and, when somebody would try to side-draft you, you could move away from them and get away and not let it have that big of an effect. That is a percentage of it, but people underestimate the driver’s desire to finish at the time. There are a lot of times we are running single file because we just want to get 350 miles in of a 400-mile race before you crash. You work too hard to go down there and crash 10 or 15 laps into the race. A lot of times, the single-file racing is just due to the drivers being patient.”
Do setups really change from February to July, given the significant swing in temperature?
“They do. The asphalt there is pretty new and very forgiving. It’s changing. It’s been a couple of years, at least, that we have had that surface down. Grip level will go away. I think the speeds will slow down a touch, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a huge swing for us. They put down an asphalt that is going to last a long time, so it won’t change too much.”