Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Maybe tire testing does pay off: Jimmie Johnson and Juan Montoya go 1-2 in Dover 400 qualifying

  Jimmie Johnson: Eight in a row? Hey, the dude's been on a roll (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Yes, Jimmie Johnson is hot and heavy in the hunt for what would be his fourth straight NASCAR Cup tour championship, which would be a record-breaking achievement. But has anyone stopped to reflect on the fact that the Californian, who just turned 34, could very, very easily be going for his eighth straight Cup title this fall?
   Eight in a row?
   Right from his very first year on the NASCAR tour, in 2002, Johnson has been a championship contender, right down to the final weeks of the season.
   Eight in a row.
   Just think about that.
   Eight in a row.
   In a sport where only two men, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., have even won seven over a career.
   Eight in a row?
    "No, not really," Johnson says.
    "I look back at 2004 and think that was a miss. (Kurt Busch beat him by just eight points.)
   "Even though we did have a shot in 2005, Tony (Stewart) had us beat. We were just hanging on, and Tony slowed down at the end of the chase and gave us some hope. But then we had our problem at Homestead. (Johnson finished 127 points behind.)"
    In 2003 Matt Kenseth beat Stewart by just 90 points.
    And in his rookie year Johnson, with only four races to go, was sitting second in the Cup standings, just 82 points behind Stewart. Then an incident at Atlanta cost him a shot at that title.
    "It is nice to know we've led the points every year…and the worst we've ever finished was fifth," Johnson says.
   "But eight in a row, I haven't really looked at that."
   Believe me, the competition has.

   Juan Pablo Montoya: he wakes up with his game face on, at this point in the chase (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

But Johnson himself has little time for such reflection at the moment because, for one thing, he'll likely have Juan Pablo Montoya on his case here Sunday…maybe even on his rear bumper for the final restart, as Mark Martin did a few days ago.
   Johnson and Montoya took the front row for the 2 p.m. start of the Dover 400 in Friday qualifying here.
   Martin, Johnson's teammate and the tour points leader, used Montoya's renowned aggressiveness to his own advantage at Loudon, slowing in the first corner on the final restart and catching Montoya by surprise.
   Well, probably not that obvious, but Montoya was a bit miffed.
   If Johnson finds Montoya the man in his rear view Sunday afternoon, does he think he too can figure out a way to use Montoya's eagerness and aggression to his own advantage?
    Johnson takes a long pause, then replies "I don't really think there's a ton you can do…. because you've got to go, you've got to get away from whoever it is.
   "If you brake-check, there's a good chance the tower will call it, and you'll get a penalty. They warn guys throughout the day about brake-checking on restarts.
   "The big thing is the guy on the inside washing up into you. So you have to guard against that, and leave the guy some room….and hope the guy knows the limit of his car, and doesn't just clean you out.
   "Juan has been aggressive, but for the most part he's driven within his means, and I've had no issues with him, even in some tense situations."
   While Johnson is NASCAR's Mr. October, hey, this Juan Pablo Montoya dude looks like he's for real this fall.
   The guy who dominated Indianapolis, though losing on a controversial pit road call, and who also dominated Loudon, N.H., last weekend, only to lose on the final lap to Martin, expected to be in the hunt here again Sunday.
    Johnson and Montoya were both here for the August 4th Goodyear tire testing, and that has become a minor controversy here, because NASCAR's testing ban has made Goodyear tire test quite important testing days for teams lucky enough to get the call.

  Greg Biffle may feel like the only Ford guy in this Chevy-dominated championship battle...and he's not a bit happy that Jimmie Johnson got to do the Goodyear tire test here at Dover (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Greg Biffle, who won this race last season but who has been winless since, maybe be Ford's best hope here to trip up all those Chevys.  But Biffle and crew chief Greg Erwin didn't unload very fast and had to battle to take the fourth starting spot: "Having (only) an hour and a half or two hours of practice to get ready to qualify, you're scrambling to get going," Biffle said. "And it's obvious that the guy that wasn't scrambling to get going was Jimmie. He was at the top of the sheet right from the onset.
   "But then he was one of the ones that did the tire test. So naturally they're going to be set up for that tire, a lot better than the rest of the teams.
   "We understand you've got to have a good guy testing the tires…but we've been told they're not going to pick chase guys to test for tires for the last 10 races, because it will make an impact – in practice and qualifying and racing. And yet Jimmie was picked to come here and test and pick a tire."
   Johnson bristled at Biffle's complaint: "Everybody has an opinion, and Goodyear tells us where they'd like for us to go.
   "I didn't get a chance to test Indy. And there were 75,000 laps run there (in Goodyear testing); but we didn't get to go. But we went back up there and won the show."
   How much did the testing here help Montoya? "Did it help? I qualified third in the spring here," Montoya replied, shrugging off the test.
   Montoya preferred to talk about the significant improvements in the tires here for this event: "They've definitely improved the tire. Last time here the first day people were into the cords. Today you can see the track is black."

  The Richard Petty team blows another engine, Elliott Sadler, in his qualifying run. Ominous for title chaser teammate Kasey Kahne, who lost an engine at Loudon. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Yes, Dover really is rubbering in with this new rubber, which should make for a good race Sunday. NASCAR, its teams and sponsors can only hope for good TV ratings too.
    Montoya is doing more than his share. He was brilliant at Loudon, just as he was at Indy, though still winless, and the victim six days ago of  Martin's vast experience at restarting with pressure on his rear bumper.
   "At last week's stop in Loudon, we were the fastest car the first 30 laps of a run, and we were a top-five car the rest of the run. It's just something I've got to learn," Montoya said of tire management, which is typically important in these races.
   And Tony Stewart? The man who dominated the 26-race regular season but who has had four bum races in a row now and appears to be fading in the chase, was a bit testy Friday when asked how it feels to have to work that hard for seven months and then give up that huge points lead he had built up.
   "Everybody knows what the system is going in to it," Stewart all but snapped at the question. "I don't know why everybody tries to reinvent the wheel now….
    "The system is a simple system; it is easy to understand. It doesn't need to be complicated by trying to throw more numbers in there to confuse the fans.
    "It is a good system the way it is.
     "It is not a frustrating position. I don't care if I was leading by a thousand points, it's not frustrating to lose those points. You know going into the season that when you get to the chase we are all going to have the same amount of points plus whatever race wins we have.
    "It's easy to understand. There is no frustration because you know that going in to it.
    "Don't try to make this something. Don't try to make controversy out of this that doesn't need to be there. It's a fair system. It is a system we all understand."
    But then maybe somebody should tell Stewart about the slump in TV ratings and the serious questions some fans themselves have about the 'chase' format.


   So Tony Stewart insists losing that 600-point regular season lead over Mark Martin doesn't hurt? Yeah, right. Paint Tony blue (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


                                             The starting lineup for Sunday's Dover AAA 400


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com