Johnson talks about 1st Daytona 500 experience since 2020

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Jimmie Johnson’s return to the NASCAR Cup Series was easily one of the bigger storylines of this year’s Daytona Speedweeks. Sunday’s 65th annual Daytona 500 was Johnson’s first appearance in the Great American Race since what he thought was going to be his final one in 2020.

Now, after a two-year hiatus, Johnson was back. This time however, it wasn’t in the familiar No. 48 Chevrolet that he made a name for himself in. 83 wins, 2 of which in the annual Daytona 500, to go along with a record tying seven championships came with Hendrick Motorsports. Now, he’s with Legacy Motor Club, a team that he’s also a co-owner of which formerly was Petty GMS Racing.

It’s a far cry from his old HMS ride. Would this be a risk of Johnson ruining his image?

He didn’t think so. He still had to qualify for the show this weekend and he rather easily did so by being the top open car qualifier on Wednesday. As a result, he took it easy in Thursday’s 150-mile qualifier and did some practice laps over the next two days to get comfortable.

“Yeah, it is different, but it still is a stockcar,” Johnson said on Wednesday night at the Daytona International Speedway. “The weight of the vehicle, the amount of downforce it has. I think within four or five laps at Phoenix in the new driver test, I was on pace and felt back at home. Had the big heavy car sliding around, moving around, all the queueing I’m so used to.

“Yes, it is different, but it’s way more familiar than what I had in two years driving INDYCARs.”

Johnson moved up quickly. He was even knocking on the door of a top five inside of 10 laps remaining. Unfortunately, he was caught up in that Lap 202 crash effectively ending his race in 31st.

“All in all, just a great day,” he said. “I hate that we didn’t get to the finish line, but we got a lot closer than I thought. If I would have taken a bet before the race started, I would have thought some issues earlier than that, but we had a great day. The Carvana car was awesome. Very, very proud of this race team. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the finish line.”

Johnson called qualifying on Wednesday a huge relief. It was the first time since his rookie season that he had to qualify on speed. It made the early days of Speedweeks very stressful. However, he had that past experience so it’s exactly what he fell back on.

Now that he’s back, Johnson will take some time to figure out what race is the next one up for him.

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