E.A. Sports Today

‘Desperate’ Johnson looks to win at Charlotte

Six-time Sprint Cup champion believes he has to win Saturday to keep shot for 7 alive

Sprint Cup driver Jimmie Johnson inspects one of the gurneys in the UAB Homecoming Gurney Derby Wednesday. In the cover photo, he arrives in the Talladega pace car. Below, he drops the green flag to start one of the Derby races.

Sprint Cup driver Jimmie Johnson inspects one of the gurneys in the UAB Homecoming Gurney Derby Wednesday. In the cover photo, he arrives in the Talladega pace car. Below, he drops the green flag to start one of the Derby races.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – Jimmie Johnson would love for Talladega to have some meaning for his team in 10 days as he looks to advance in the Sprint Cup playoffs, but something big has to happen first for any of it to be meaningful.

Something big, as in winning at Charlotte Saturday night. Nothing less.

“I think the position we’re in now we really have to win in Charlotte to have control of our destiny and transfer to the next round,” the six-time Sprint Cup champion said Wednesday during an appearance at UAB.

Johnson is currently in the worst position of any of the 12 contending drivers in the standings — 12th — 27 points behind the coveted eighth spot currently shared by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. The top eight after the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 19 remain in contention in the next segment of the Chase for the Cup.

Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhadt Jr. are on the same bubble as Johnson. Joey Logano holds a six-point lead over Kyle Busch at the front of the pack.

“You’ve got some big names who need to race, and need to win to transfer, I think that will really create some awesome racing at Talladega,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be very important for a handful of guys in Charlotte to have a good race, including myself. Then you roll into Talladega and who knows what environment we’ll have to deal with there.

“By NASCAR’s design, this is what they wanted. They wanted multiple story lines, they wanted to create drama, and, boy, do we have it on an epic level right now.

“There are four of us, including myself, who are desperate, and I feel that number has a chance to grow in Charlotte and you’ll have 6, 7, 8 drivers that have to win at Talladega to advance. And I think that will create a very competitive environment … and certainly a lot of entertainment for the fans.”

If Johnson can get through this segment, he feels good about his chances to win it all because the next three tracks – Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix – are among his best.

He has eight wins at Martinsville and was second there in March. He has three wins at Texas (including each of the last two fall races) and four at Phoenix.

Of course, failing to win at Charlotte, Talladega presents its own set of uncertainties that could throw him right back in the mix. But he wants to leave nothing to chance at a track with what he calls “so many unknowns this year” and a history of unpredictable finishes.

“I really feel like I’ve got to go the Charlotte and win the race to control my own destiny,” he said. “To keep our championship hopes alive, we’ve got to win to go on. It kind of simplifies things to a certain degree.

“There’s such a short amount of races in each segment that it’s pretty simple; you don’t spend much time doing the math. And with Talladega in this grouping, you just have to go to Charlotte and win – that’s the way I’m looking at it.”

Johnson fell into this “big pressure” win-or-else mode similar to what he felt in 2012 at Homestead because of a 40th-place finish last week at Kansas. He said with all the concerns of Talladega being a deal breaker, that Midwest mile-and-a-half played as big a role in the standings as any race.

It was a struggle for their team all week and it finally came to an end when he spun after being hit by Greg Biffle. Because of that disappointment, he said, “Charlotte can be a big wild-card race, too.”

Johnson was in Birmingham to promote a college student ticket package for the Talladega race and officiate UAB’s annual Gurney Derby, the oldest tradition of the Blazers’ Homecoming. He arrived in the red Talladega pace car and apologized for what he called a “lame” attempt at burning out on 13th Street.

“The burnouts were terrible; I’m embarrassed,” he said. “It’s just a street car. They’ve worked very hard to keep street cars from sliding any more. I found the traction control switch, but it still seemed like it was trying to kick in once I had a certain speed with the tires.”

If things go right for him in Charlotte, he’ll have plenty of chances to make up for it.

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer for East Alabama Sports Today. To comment on this story or pitch a story idea, contact him at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and he can be followed on Twitter at Al Muskewitz@easportstoday1.

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