Johnson 'loses' race with Atlanta fan, can't wait to race the real AMS
Jimmie Johnson was in Atlanta Wednesday to promote Atlanta Motor Speedway's Labor Day Weekend Oral-B USA 500. He made appearances on CNN and met with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who proclaimed Sunday, August 31st (race day) "Atlanta Motor Speedway Day" in Georgia. Johnson then laid down some laps on a racing simulator at Dantana's in CNN Center, before heading across the street to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
At the Chamber lunch, Performance Racing Network's Doug Rice moderated a program where Johnson answered questions both from Rice and local Atlanta business leaders in the crowd. Georgia NASCAR champions (and soon-to-be-NASCAR Hall of Famers) Bill Elliott and Rex White were also on hand to answer some questions at the lunch.
Then, after the lunch and a small session with the media, Johnson headed back to Dantana's to race the Atlanta Motor Speedway track against two fast fans. Those fans were the two fastest out of the group of people that had tried to lay down fast times to race Johnson head-to-head. Johnson, a three-time winner at AMS, had previously laid a time just below 30 seconds. These fans got close. There were three simulators and Johnson, interestingly, got placed in the simulator that was his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon's, No. 24. The other fans were in Johnson's No. 48 and their teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s, No. 88.
The fan in the No. 88, who said his name is "The Magic Unicorn", wrecked early and was way behind, but the fan in the No. 48 stayed within an earshot of Johnson. But we noticed that Johnson started letting up and even scraping the wall on purpose, allowing the fan (who by beating Johnson would win tickets to the AMS Sprint Cup race) back into contention. He passed Johnson as they came to the white flag and just barely won the race. Neither Johnson nor the winning fan, Dan Grube of Smyrna, Georgia, realized the checkered flag was out and stayed in throttle for over one extra lap. In the end, they shook hands and Grube, a huge stock car racing fan, thanked Johnson for coming into town and gladly accepted the tickets to the race. Financial problems had derailed Grube's plans to attend the race like he had in the past. But he certainly was glad to not only get tickets, but also "beat" and meet a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ.
Johnson is glad Atlanta, a track where he has 13 top 10s in 22 career Cup races, is coming up on the schedule.
"Just have a good race [is the goal for the AMS weekend]. It's such a blast," Johnson told a small group of reporters (Rick Minter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports, Brad Harrison of AMS, and myself) just after the Chamber lunch. "It's such a fun weekend and everyone loves and respects it. I think I got crashed twice last year and still had a shot to run up front with a destroyed racecar. It's such a long race and so much can happen. It's so much fun to drive and obviously on a fun holiday weekend."
One big reason Johnson looks forward to the Atlanta race is because of the lack of pressure he and the No. 48 team have to try and lock in to the Chase.
"The surface is so different now, you can't take anything from there to the other Chase tracks. So, it's really a one-off race where you come, run, and try to take the trophy." Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team does plan to use their three remaining NASCAR-allowed tests at Chase tracks: Phoenix, Martinsville, and, of course, Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the four remaining drivers in the Chase will battle in a one-race showdown for the title.
When asked about his recent slump, three DNF's in the last four races that have dropped him to 6th in points, Johnson didn't have much to blame for it. He said that his team wasn't testing anything more radical on their setups than they normally would.
"I have no idea. We're always trying, we're still trying to develop. We lost a great car at Pocono."
Goodyear racing tires have been a real thorn in Team 48's side this season - something that cannot be forgotten on AMS' worn surface that eats tires.
"It's been a really bizarre year with us and tires. We never had tire problems and this year we've been plagued with them since the race at California." And when probed about Goodyear blaming the race teams, Johnson sarcastically quipped back as you might expect. "Of course not, it could never be their fault."
More than likely, both race teams and Goodyear can shoulder some of the blame when tire failures arise.
Johnson is one of many drivers to laud the racing action at AMS, because there is tire wear and multiple racing grooves. Fans should be in for a treat later this month. Thanks to Johnson, one fan in particular is going to truly enjoy the festivities.
Hear Jimmie Johnson's full interview where he also talks about why Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are running so well, parity in NASCAR, how NASCAR deals with concussions, and a great story about his first times meeting Dale Earnhardt.