For Jimmie Johnson, a trip to Martinsville provides a lot of motivation to win based on the history that Hendrick Motorsports has at the paperclip with their first win in 1984, the plane crash in 2004, the success through the years and the fact this year marks the 30th anniversary. With all the motivation, Johnson feels confident that this weekend would be the perfect weekend to check off the win box.
“We are certainly close and we were knocking on the door last weekend and I think we have had a couple other looks at wins,” Johnson commented. “I think we are really understanding this 2014 package and getting some speed out of our cars and we should be contending and racing for wins I believe.”
Johnson says to win at Martinsville due to all the reasons means a lot as it brings out a lot of emotions, but also pride in representing the company at a track that they’re known to be successful at.
“To see Rick and his face and the expression that he has and you can sense in his voice and in his eyes – you can see how much it means to him to win here,” Johnson commented. “It is a cool, amazing experience to go through. Rick is a very competitive guy and he likes to win races. But with all the emotion that you have here I think we are in a good place here. Absolutely we are sad that the aircraft went down and we lost everybody that was on the airplane, but I am finding today that there are a lot more happy stories as we are reflecting back.
“Especially of thinking about little Ricky and the crazy stuff he would do and the stunts he would pull on his dad. There’s a lot of laughter, and I would assume if one of the Hendrick drivers get to victory lane, it would be a very joyful celebration and emotion. Rick and Linda would probably shed some tears later in private, but from a team standpoint, and everybody at HMS, it would be a very uplifting experience.”
Johnson took to the paperclip very early in his career and he credits that to the amount of testing that drivers used to be able to do, as well as his teammate Jeff Gordon.
“We took every step we could to get me prepared and get me right, and I still was kind of in the way,” Johnson said reflecting back as he finished 35th in his first trip to Martinsville.
Johnson says the first trip didn’t set in that good despite having Gordon’s set-up under his car – but equaled a learning experience. Johnson got lapped early on by Tony Stewart and he said following Stewart around allowed him to learn the rhythm a driver needs to run well at Martinsville.
“This is a track where a half-tenth per end of the race track is huge. And it’s so hard to even quantify that or see that,” Johnson commented. “It took me following Tony and getting into that rhythm where I picked it up. I was fortunate enough to get my lap back and then I think we ran a top-15 or top-10, and from that point on I’m like ‘OK. I see it. I get it.’ Or maybe more so I feel it and understand that rhythm.”
Going into this weekend, Johnson has yet to win a race this year and a lot of people have wondered why Johnson has yet to win a race so far this year – though as Johnson pointed out, they’ve been fast at different tracks this year and should’ve won at California if not for the tire issue. Johnson also added that he doesn’t normally get on his hot streak till we get into the season a bit.
“We have a good track here and Dover is coming up soon and there are a lot of big opportunities coming along and with the new rules package that we have – I think that has allowed for the five different winners at five different tracks,” Johnson commented. “It’s just a challenge right now to figure out what you need and what you want and it’s nice to see so much parity with different teams and drivers winning. I guess it would be nice if the Hendrick guys were walking away with it and we had won all the races, but there is a lot of parity out there.”
In the past 15 races at Martinsville, Johnson has picked up eight wins so there is no doubt about confidence. Even with the teams using a new rules package this year, Johnson feels that he and Chad Knaus will have the package come Sunday to win because of how well they know the track.
“There is a bit of uncertainty and some questions that we need to answer today on the track,” Johnson said prior to practice. “But no doubt as far as a mental aspect of walking into a track from a team standpoint and a driver standpoint, when you walk into a track where you have had success, it does put a spring in your step.”
Johnson seems to have started to get he package figured out for the race as he qualified fourth for Sunday’s STP 500.