DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson said he isn’t worried about having to prove himself to his fellow racers and as a guy with seven championships and 83 wins, he’s probably right.
“I’m sure fan perception will be different,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said on pit road following an eighth-place finish in the opening Gander RV Duel at Daytona International Raceway.
He’s probably right about that, too.
Two races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway this week and two incidents involving the 43-year-old. He’s putting a new wrinkle in the notion of a Daytona sweep.
The 2018 season saw everyone asking when Johnson would win again. He still hasn’t, not until Sunday’s Clash anyway and in that one he went to victory lane after contact with Paul Menard led to a 17-car pile-up.
Thursday night it was contact with Kyle Busch and Johnson said he made a mistake and Kyle didn’t seem to disagree and now the question may be can Johnson finish a race here without putting the right front of his No. 48 Chevrolet against the left rear quarterpanel of a fellow racer and creating a problem.
“We were three-wide coming through the turn,” Johnson said, “I’m looking out the windshield, my rear-view mirror and my third mirror trying to judge if the line is going to follow me, if the line is going to follow Kyle, and where that third (lapped) car is.”
Johnson said he wanted “to get back in behind Kyle” but he misjudged. “I thought I knew where I was with my right front and I just had it wrong.”
Busch, who finished 18th in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, may or may not go to a backup although that didn’t seem to be the case afterward. Busch hit nothing but who knows what damage a drive back to pit road with a flat right front can do.
• Duel winners were Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano and Ford teams finished 1-2-3 in both 60-lap qualifying races that set the lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Maybe someone forgot to tell the them the Mustang is new in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and not likely to be competitive until teams get the bugs worked out.
Harvick was dominant, leading 44 laps. Meanwhile Logano seemed content to ride until it came time to write the check. Then he checked out on the white-flag lap, thanks to an assist from Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney and a scary fast No. 22 Ford.
• Racing their way into the 61st running of the Great American Race were Parker Kligerman (12th) and Brendan Gaughan (15th). Tyler Reddick and Casey Mears earned the final two transfer positions based on previous qualifying speeds.
Two drivers failed to qualify – Joey Gase and Ryan Truex.