Getting to victory lane at the Brickyard 400 is different for every NASCAR driver
SPEEDWAY – As perhaps one of the most dominant drivers in the history of the sport, Jimmie Johnson pulled a bit of a surprise on Friday afternoon when asked about his success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That includes four victories and a second place finish a year ago-putting him just one step from rare company with a quintet of victories at Indianapolis.
Only Michael Schumacher of Formula One can make that claim- but Johnson was clear just how much he has to alter to get himself to victory lane.
“My natural tendencies didn’t work around this track,” said Johnson at a news conference when talking about the reasons for his successes here. “I’d make a conscious effort to drive differently.”
It certainly seems like the change has helped him to find success at Indianapolis after a bit of a rough start early in his career. In two of his first four Brickyard 400’s he didn’t finish the race. Even after his first win he followed it with an early lap crash in 2007.
But Johnson has been incredible solid over the past six years never finishing lower than 19th with three wins and a second place.
“There are tracks that your natural driving tendencies suit and this just isn’t one of them for me,” said Johnson. “So I’ve really got to change my game when I come here.”
Jeff Gordon hasn’t had a victory in Indianapolis in ten years, which might seem resonable in some drivers eyes but not for someone with his stature. In the first eleven Brickyard 400 Gordon won four of them and established himself as the elite driver in the series for nearly a decade.
Gordon actually won the first Brickyard 400 in 1994 and may have his best chance to join the five-win club in whats been a resurgent 2014. At the moment the #24 sits atop the traditional points standings with a win already on the season-which in the new format likely locks him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Yet Gordon’s philosophy to dealing with expectations to win doesn’t bring out pressure for the four-time series champion.
“There is more excitement and anticipation than there is pressure,” said Gordon. “The pressure comes on the final restart if you’re in position to win. Pressure comes with five laps to go and you’re battling for the win. That’s pressure.
“Right now there’s no pressure. It’s just about going out and focusing on practice and getting the car right.”
That’s what Ryan Newman did last year along with some schrewed pit strategy in the final laps. A choice of taking two tires instead of four on the final pit stop allowed the South Bend native to pull ahead of Johnson and secure his first win in Indianapolis.
For Newman, it was all about preparing himself to do well while making sure not to expect anything before the race.
“I didn’t expect to win the pole. I didn’t expect to win the race. I don’t think you can expect anything,” said Newman. “You just have to put yourself into position.”
Which a number of champions have done in his unique way.