Coming off a 35th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson kicked off his “real” season in style, scoring a top five finish in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Strong day,” Johnson said. “Sadly with probably 15 to go or so I got in the outside wall off [Turn] 2, lost some spots but didn’t have a strong enough tire rub to cause any problems. Put rights on before that final restart and chaos happened in front of me, I was able to sneak through and advance up to a top five finish.”
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) February 24, 2020
Hendrick Motorsports and the Chevrolet cars in general ran in front for the entirety of the afternoon, with Chase Elliott being the class of the field before a flat tire did him in. Alex Bowman challenged for the lead before the final caution came out, while William Byron and Johnson ran inside the top 10 all day.
“We’re trying to understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” he said. “We’re close but here’s still a little but more work for us to do on the car to get the balance between clean air and in traffic closer. But for a first try on a downforce track, our guys did a really nice job.”
Leaving the first intermediate track with a good feeling is a nice change of pace for Johnson, who recalled one year ago leaving Las Vegas with the worry of not being able to compete for wins all season long.
“Last year we left here sitting the panic button, worried about where we were,” he said. “To leave here with cars that ran in the top five all day, one of our cars led, that’s the first time on a downforce track with it, I know we’ll be able to increase a couple percent every week and get better yet.”
In what’ll be his final full-time season, Johnson ditched the “#Chasing8” hashtag for “#OneFinalTime,” citing his lack of pressure on himself and the urge to enjoy the final go around.
Sunday’s finish backed up the talk in the offseason. It wasn’t a facade: the confidence is real.
“Behind the scenes, I could see how things were coming together,” he said. “Largely the effort that Chevrolet put into this new Camaro body, the fact that the three big Chevrolet teams work so closely together to get the smartest people in the room and get the best body on this race car, and then also the other piece of that is just Cliff Daniels.”
“He didn’t have a chance to get much up to speed (last season). Watching him through the offseason, seeing where his mindset was and my crews mindset, I knew we were going to start the year strong. 2020 is going to be a good year.”
— Ally Racing (@allyracing) February 23, 2020