DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Much of what lives on from last Sunday in Kentucky for Jimmie Johnson is the disappointment of a lost opportunity.
A win that looked certain one lap, gone the next. The frustration of another late race restart that he felt he was wronged on. Perhaps lost in the shuffle was that Johnson railed after his spin to finish ninth, another comeback for a driver and team who have shown time and time again, they’re might be down but never out.
Since his NSCS debut, Johnson has made a living doing what many would deem the impossible. Winning five-straight championships. Four All-Star race wins. The harder one looks, the more accolades and accomplishments that could be pulled out.
However, when it comes to the racing, the grit and grime of the profession, Johnson excels when the pressures on. Whether it’s holding off Jeff Gordon at Martinsville, dominating the Monster Mile or simple cruising at Pocono, he’s one of the masters of his profession.
“At times all drivers can be their own worst enemy. I feel like that one in Kentucky is definitely on me,” Johnson said Thursday in Daytona.
“I’m the guy behind the wheel at the controls. We went down into turn one and I’m not exactly sure, I haven’t seen the video, but we were three-wide going in the corner. The air affected my car and I got turned around. If I didn’t spin there I really feel like regardless of the restart not being a pretty one for whatever reason, I still had a very good opportunity to win the race.”
When Johnson spun out by himself his chance at a third victory in 2013 disappeared into the smoke emanating from his tires. Crew chief Chad Knaus hoped they’d escape the day with a top-15 finish and move on. There were less than 20 laps left at that point and even with four fresh tires, Johnson was mired back in traffic.
The champion had other ideas, furiously charging through the field and making his way to ninth at the checkered flag. Add another chapter in the book of Johnson improbable comebacks.
He overcame a blown tire at Indianapolis in 2006 to win his first of what is now four Brickyard 400s. There was Pocono in 2009 when a faltering engine resulted in losing three laps.
A rash of cautions with 50 laps to go though enabled Johnson to get all of those laps back and make a charge. Sitting 36th with 40 laps to go, he finished 13th.
Even better, how about Kansas last season when he salvaged his Chase efforts after a crash that damaged the rear end of his Lowe’s Chevrolet? With the decklid smashed in and Knaus calling for Johnson to head to the garage, he instead pulled into his pit stall for his team to assess the damage.
After beating and banging their way around the spoiler they sent him back on track, still on the lead lap. A ninth place finish kept his Chase deficit to just seven points, the same it had been when he entered the day.
Now back to Kentucky. For as angry as Johnson and company were, the finish helped heal some of the open wound. He remains the point leader entering Daytona; where he opened the season with his second win in the Great American Race.
He doesn’t get back a lost win or the potential Chase bonus points he gave away, but he does have the mentality to continue on through adversity.
“I rarely leave the track and not go home in deep thought thinking about what I could have done differently,” said Johnson.
“They sting a bit more when you lead all those laps and don’t leave with the trophy there is no doubt. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know how to shrug that stuff off, focus on what is important and what I can learn from and then go to the next race.”