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“There’s no place like home.” Judy Garland delivered the ubiquitous line in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Jimmie Johnson can relate as he heads to what he considers “home” on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., just up I-15 from his hometown of El Cajon.
Not only is the track home-like geographically, but a quick glance at the five-time champion’s statistics at the 2-mile oval and it’s easy to understand if he feels like it’s his house. He has five wins in 18 starts and has finished outside the top-10 only four of those times and outside the top-five only six. He has finished every lap in those 18 races and holds the series’ best driver rating among several other key statistical categories.
Johnson often cites his first win at the track in March 2002, also his first in the series, as one of the highlights of his career. “It was like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders,” he said. “I felt like I might be able to keep my job after that.”
He kept his job and has continued to move into his new home-away-from-home over the years. Coming into Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Johnson will look to climb back into the points lead after a tire issue last Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway knocked him from atop the standings for the first time since winning the season-opening Daytona 500. If his most recent results at Fontana hold true, Johnson has a shot. He hasn’t finished outside the top-10 since September 2006, when he was 11th.
So while the mythical Dorothy’s visit to the Land of Oz and her subsequent trip home to Kansas (whose university’s basketball team, incidentally, begins its quest for a return trip to the NCAA’s national championship game this weekend) may have been a dream, there’s no dreaming that Johnson has what it takes to make this another successful homecoming. He puts it in his words:
What do you think we are going to see at Auto Club Speedway this weekend?
“I think it’s going to be a fun race. We have a lot of racetrack to race on. We’re all getting smarter about the cars. I’m excited that Lowe’s is allowing me to have my foundation’s colors on the racecar. That combination has been awfully successful for us over the years.”
Crew chief Chad Knaus also weighs in on racing at Auto Club:
Are looking forward to going to Auto Club Speedway?
“I’m looking forward to going to Fontana with the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS. It is a really good racetrack. It’s easy to say that about a lot of venues, but Fontana is a track where the drivers can really go and explore different lanes. The crew chiefs and teams can explore different ways to make the racecars go fast because you can work with horsepower. You can work with aerodynamics. You can work with mechanical grip. If you are fortunate enough to get all three of them right, you run really, really fast. It’s honestly a really good racetrack and a lot of fun.”