Johnson Gest Much Needed Top 5 Finish Sunday In Bristol, Agrees With Hamlin’s Assessment On Chevy’s Strength

Jimmie Johnson needed this finish. He’d bring his No. 48 Chevrolet home third in Sunday’s Food City 500 at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway — the 13th top five of his career at the track. Johnson’s career long winless streak though extends to 104 races now as he hasn’t won a race in three years. But, that winless drought appears to be on the cusp on ending soon.
Johnson, has had a vastly improved race car in 2020 in comparison to years past. He said that he agreed with Denny Hamlin’s assessment of the Chevrolet, most notably the Hendrick Motorsports camp, in that their speed is here to stay.

“Yeah, without a doubt,” Johnson said of if he agreed with Hamlin’s comments made after Thursday night’s race at Charlotte. “That new Camaro has been a huge help for us.  I think through last year’s events, and NASCAR taking the three makes, taking those cars after the race is over, blowing them in the wind tunnel, they saw the situation and they allowed Chevrolet to build a new Camaro and bring it out to get us up on par with the Toyotas and the Fords.

“This year we feel like we are much more in the ballpark and much more on an equal with them with the 550 package.”

Last year, Chevrolet only won just seven races despite having a car specifically made for the new high downforce, low horsepower package. Ford and Toyota combined to win the other 29 with cars designed for the opposite racing package. When data was collected, Johnson says that their engine power overcame the cars deficiency, which was the cause for them being down in performance again.

“I mean, with the low horsepower, it’s really about efficiencies,” Johnson continued. “It kind of tells a story that back when we didn’t have these restricted engines, the Chevrolets were creating downforce kind of in an inefficient manner, but it didn’t matter because we had the horsepower to pull us through it.

“Last year it was pretty obvious when we raced the 550 package we had trouble.  We couldn’t trim the car out to the lengths of the other manufacturers.  After NASCAR studied it hard, they realized they needed to do something.  They let us have a new car this year.

“Between that and I think a new engine block that they approved for the year, the engine block is a lot lighter and helps on days like today.  It’s their job to keep the quality and they allowed us to make those changes and bring us up to par with the other two makes.”

It’s showing too. Hendrick Motorsports has won 10 of the 19 stages this season. They had eight stage wins all of last year.

For 2020, Johnson was fifth in the second race of the season in Vegas, seventh a week later in Fontana, 12th a week after that in Phoenix. But, in the return to action from the COVID-19 break, he’s had some mistakes.

He won on the cusp of winning the first stage back following a 70 day hiatus, but the seven-time champion made a rare mistake while trying to push too hard on the final lap of the opening stage at Darlington and crashed into a lapped car. He had to start in the back in the next race as a result of that and despite having speed, he lacked time to move up fully and would finish eighth. In last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, he crossed the finish line second but was later penalized for a ride heights violation. He was credited with a last place, 40th place result. Then, he was 11th on Thursday night.

That dropped him from fifth in the standings before the break to 16th. That’s why a finish like he had in Bristol was great for the teams morale.

“We’re excited,” Johnson said. “I felt like when the lockdown and quarantine started, we had momentum on our side. I was really bummed that we couldn’t see that through. Then to sit on ice for eight, nine weeks, whatever it ended up being, then come back and really actually be stronger than we were before the lockdown happened is really a testament to everybody at Hendrick, the leadership on Cliff’s side, what he’s doing with these crew guys. I felt like we would be good, but we definitely stepped it up after the lockdown lifted, now that we’re back racing.”

“Very strong performance for us. Really proud of the guys keeping our chins up through the last four weeks. We’ve had fast cars, really haven’t had the results to show for it.
           
“To put together a solid race, start to finish, great pit stops, fast car, be a threat. We need more long runs. There’s only one long race in the whole race. We were battling for the lead with Kyle. I wish there were more long runs because our car didn’t have the short run speed in it. But we still salvaged a great day out of it with the Ally Chevy.”

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