INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson always does things in a big way. He’s won five consecutive championships. In 12 full-time seasons he’s won on the fastest superspeedways, the toughest road courses, the most-challenging short tracks and everything in between.
Today, he can become the only NASCAR driver to win five races at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard is another opportunity for Johnson to exert his dominance in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s the defending race champion – actually he’s won four of the past seven races at the Brickyard – and he’s got a commanding 56-point lead in the current standings.
The green flag will wave shortly after 1 p.m.
Johnson started the season by winning the Daytona 500. He added victories at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, the triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway and the summer race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I think he will be fast, as usual,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. “I’ll be surprised if they’re not one of the more competitive teams.”
Johnson believes he’s never been more focused and better prepared to win races – and another championship – than now. Few would argue, especially since his points lead means he actually could skip Sunday’s race and still would be the points leader after the race.
But don’t expect that. In fact, Johnson said his team is committed to winning again – and making history.
“Fifth would be incredible,” he said. “I can’t believe I have four of them right now. This track for one took me awhile to sort out. I was able to get a feel for things and start setting the car up for the proper line and driver inputs around here. Then things just started clicking for us.”
Formula One driver Michael Schumacher holds the track record with five career wins in the U.S. Grand Prix. Johnson and Jeff Gordon have four stock car wins at the Brickyard, while A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser have four victories in the legendary Indianapolis 500.
Johnson has won at Indianapolis in two different generation race cars. He won in 2006 with a car that slowly veered away from a “stock” look. He won again in 2008, 2009 and 2012 in what was known as the Car of Tomorrow that took racing far from its contemporary roots.
This year’s car, called Generation-6, marks the return of a “stock” look with all the safety and performance advantages of the last car. It also creates a new challenge for teams to get a handle in the flat nine-degree banking.
“It is different for sure,” Johnson said. “We are still trying to get the exact feel that I’m looking for. Again, last year we had so many tools to work with to help the car perform like we wanted to that we just don’t have that luxury this year. I don’t know what the speeds are, but I feel like we are a little bit slower than what I anticipated from a driver’s effort stand point.”
Ryan Newman, who is looking for a new ride for 2014, padded his resume by winning the pole with a track-record lap of 187.531 mph.
Johnson was second at 187.438 mph.
The rest of the top-10 starters will be: Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose.
Johnson knows he comes to every racetrack as a favorite. But nobody puts more pressure on him to win than himself – especially at the big races.
“In my heart I feel like I need to come here and win,” he said. “It’s pressure I put on myself. I don’t know the outside pressure. I haven’t paid too much attention to it. With how we have been performing and the history we have had here over the last few years I feel like we definitely have a shot and we should put that pressure on ourselves as a team and I should put that on myself as a driver that I need to come here and win the race and hopefully can.”
While most consider the four wins by Foyt, Unser and Mears to be the milestone at Indianapolis, Johnson said anytime you can win at the world’s most-famous racetrack it’s big.
“It’s a major for us, so it has that feel to it,” Johnson said. “And then for each driver, every driver respects this facility and respects what this victory does and can do and will do, and what it’s done for so many drivers. It doesn’t matter if it’s F1 or IndyCar. So we’re all very aware of that.”