DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Where restart rules are concerned, Jimmie Johnson promises he won’t be such a strict constructionist in future races.
After restart issues at both Dover and Kentucky cost Johnson likely wins at both tracks, Johnson says he’ll take some liberties with the letter of the law when he’s coming to the green flag after a caution.
Why? Because Johnson feels other drivers are doing precisely that.
When Matt Kenseth led the field to green late in last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky, Johnson exclaimed on the radio that Kenseth should have been penalized for “stopping the field” — failing to maintain pace car speed as he approached and entered the restart zone.
Kenseth pulled ahead at the start/finish line, leaving Johnson’s dominant car in the middle of a three-wide sandwich entering Turn 1. Johnson spun and lost his opportunity to win the race.
“I know the rule,” Johnson said Thursday before opening practice at Daytona International Speedway. “I feel like I’m maybe a little focused on the way the rule reads exactly and paying maybe too close of attention to that.
“Maybe I should lighten up and loosen up.”
For the record, NASCAR rules — as reiterated in every pre-race drivers’ meeting — require the leader to maintain pace car speed before restarting the race in the prescribed zone, defined by red marks on the speedway wall.
Johnson says he always has abided by the rule but feels others have played fast and loose with procedures.
“There are a lot of restarts, especially during the Kentucky race, that I brought [to the green] that I feel like a good citizen, a good student in doing exactly what I’m supposed to,” Johnson said. “There are other times [with other drivers controlling the restarts] when I don’t feel that exactly happens and that it’s not called on or viewed from [NASCAR race control] as the rule reads.
“At the end of the day, I’m just going to lighten up on how I think about it and use that zone and that area regardless of the way the rule reads to get an advantage and worry about myself.”
At Dover, Johnson was black-flagged for passing Juan Pablo Montoya before the cars reached the start/finish line, another violation of restart procedure.
Does that mean Johnson now is psyched out about restarts he doesn’t control?
“I’m not smart enough to let it get in my head,” the five-time Sprint Cup champion quipped. “So we’re fine there. There’s not much between these ears.”