“I had so much fun out there today,” says Johnson after leading 19 laps Saturday in Iowa

NEWTON, IA — Jimmie Johnson looked like the Jimmie Johnson that we knew on Saturday in Iowa. While the box score shows an 11th place finish in the HyveeDeals.com 250, that doesn’t tell the while story.

Johnson qualified his No. 48 Dallara-Honda 15th on Saturday morning around the .894-mile bullring. He brought out the first caution on Lap 17. Here we go again right?

“I’ve had a lot of success in my Cup career, if you think of tracks like Atlanta or Richmond in the Cup cars, probably Kevin Harvick was one of the first ones to expose if you drive on the painted line, it will help turn the car and create some grip. I just tried it and it didn’t work,” Johnson said of the early race spin.

“I was running lower and lower in three and four. It was working well. I thought, Let me just put the left sides on the painted lines. I was backward instantly. It was just a mistake on my behalf.”

So, Johnson just moved up to find a new line that worked really well for him. He put his No. 48 Dallara-Honda up high and through the field he came.

“Yeah, the Cup car wasn’t the first one up top. I do have some experience and have run higher with success in my Cup career,” he said of working to find a new higher line around the track.

“I had a really good look at the line, could see where it was clean, where the marbles started. I tried it a few laps, just had my right sides up in that cleaner part of the track. 3 or 4/10ths a lap faster immediately. I kept working that.

“Word traveled fast and that line was kind of run off after a period of time. For a while it was working really well.”

Ironically enough, that early race incident kind of helped him. He was among 11 drivers to hit pit lane on Lap 19. Those 11 flew through the field on fresh tires including Johnson who by Lap 50 had worked his way into the top 5.

Then he went to 4th. Then 3rd. Then 2nd. Then…

Johnson inherited the lead when Will Power pit on Lap 60. The lead was his and he wasn’t wanting to give it up. He’d lead the next 19 laps before pitting on Lap 79. He’d still work his way back up to the top 5 before pitting with everyone under the caution for Felix Rosenqvist on Lap 111. Now, he was on the same strategy and with a car capable of a win.

From that point, the moves Johnson would make was vintage Johnson. It was the one we’d witness to winning 7 Cup titles. We saw him win 83 races running with this aggression.

“I had so much fun out there today,” Johnson said. “Watched so many great races at this track. To be here in person, drive on it in an INDYCAR is such a rush.

“The first two-thirds of the race I really felt like we had a car competitive enough to win.”

He did too. With the tires really only lasting 60 laps, the final stint went 83. Everyone hit pit lane on Lap 167 for what would be the final time. Johnson didn’t have much experience in running long stints here which is why he fell from 6th to 11th in the end.

“There at the end it kind of slipped away from us,” he said. “I think the longer run at the end also kind of exposed a weakness in our car, and I faded a bit more.

“We’ll sleep on it tonight, work with our teammates and engineers, make some good changes for tomorrow and come back stronger.”

I expect some good things out of him on Sunday. He starts 13th and has a night to think about it. Plus, Iowa is a track that Johnson says suits him the best with what he knows from the NASCAR side.

“I think there are more similarities to driving an INDYCAR here than anywhere else I’ve been so far,” he says. “The inputs in the car are much more aggressive. There’s a just a lot more sign on the wheel, a lot more work with your feet, like what you would do in a Cup car on a short track as well.

“I felt like instinctively I could just drive the car and didn’t have to think about things so much. Texas and Indy, speed is higher, you’re more precise with your inputs. Here it was down and dirty, short track driving. Fits my style really well.

“I mean, these cars really reward confidence. A Cup car, I think they reward patience and finesse. There’s a different skill set that goes with it. You’re going so damn fast in these things, the more downforce it creates, the confidence really rewards you.

“Certainly hoping so. I hope tomorrow I have an even sharper performance.”

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