Jimmie Johnson is chasing an unprecedented fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup title this year. The 34-year-old Californian is steadily emerging as one of the greatest talents in the sport’s history, and he’s emphasized the point over the past two weekends by winning back-to-back races at the Infineon Raceway road course in California and the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval.
Johnson has suffered a minor slump in recent months, failing to win a race for 10 weeks and falling to seventh in the points. But his two most recent victories – the 51st and 52nd of his career – have vaulted him back into second in the championship, 105 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. Johnson said that at this stage of the season he’s more interested in collecting points than winning races.
“A few weeks ago I was in a position where points were really important,” he explained. “You can’t take where you are for granted. Even though we’re now second in the points, three races ago we were seventh and 12th place wasn’t that far away. So a lot can still change and we need to be collecting points to make sure we’re in The Chase [for the Cup].
“I think it’s more important to win in The Chase than it is to win now. If I could pick when I would win my next race, I’d rather it be in The Chase. I think there’s a big message in that.
“For us, we’re still looking for a little more speed, so my goal now is to be smart, to try to keep finishing in the top five, learn about our cars and make sure we can be winning when The Chase comes around. If we have an opportunity to win a race we’ll certainly step up and try. But I think there’s more damage to be done if you’re driving over your means, so I’m looking for consistency.”
Johnson is NASCAR’s most complete driver today. He’s eminently quick, almost invariably a contender in the closing stages of most races, and is a cool, analytical player capable of working with crew chief Chad Knaus to get the best from his car. Before winning in New Hampshire Johnson said he would love to test or race an Indycar or a Formula 1 car.
“I really would enjoy it,” he said. “The way I grew up, Indycar racing was really the only outside exposure I had. I dreamt of racing in the Indy 500 and would go to the Long Beach Grand Prix and hope that I could be on that circuit racing at some point. So I’d love to try an Indycar or an F1 car. My path has taken me a different way and I think it would be very difficult to get an F1 test. But maybe by putting it out there it could happen.
“To experience driving an Indycar or F1 car on a road course would be really good for me. Running the Grand-Am car has helped me be a better road course driver, and it would be another step in an F1 or Indycar to see things at a faster speed in the braking zones and the capabilities of the car, how it turns in.”
There’s no doubt that Jimmie Johnson is the fastest, sharpest American driver in action today. If Bernie Ecclestone and FOTA’s team owners are serious about breaking back into the American market, they should be leaping off the marks to put together an F1 test for Johnson in a top car. When will it happen Bernie?