DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mr. Hendrick, we have a problem.
Twice during Sunday’s rain-delayed Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson spun without provocation off Turn 4.
The first time, on Lap 17, he took out the No. 41 Ford of Kurt Busch. The second time, Johnson nosed into the inside wall near the entrance to pit road crashed out of the 75-lap exhibition race.
Forget that Johnson failed to finish the Clash for the sixth straight year. More important is the observation that the balance of the Hendrick Motorsports cars has been problematic at restrictor-plate tracks.
Watching from the TV booth as Alex Bowman drove his No. 88 Chevy to a third-place finish Dale Earnhardt Jr. expressed apprehension when Johnson spun once, then twice. Remember, Earnhardt spun three times on plate tracks last year before a concussion sidelined him for the final 18 races of the season.
Unlike last year, Earnhardt plans to practice extensively for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Sunday’s accidents left Johnson thinking in the same vein.
“It’s bizarre, because it drove really good everywhere else,” Johnson said after the second wreck. “Then off of (Turn) 4, the first time I had a handling problem was when it broke free and I got into the No. 41, and then after that it was really loose after that caution and the last long stretch before I crashed again.
“Just off of Turn 4. The sun certainly sits on that edge of the track a little bit harder than anywhere else. We will take some notes and learn from those mistakes and apply that to the (Daytona) 500 car.”
As to possible solutions, Johnson already was pondering potential fixes.
“I would have to assume that it’s relative to the height of the rear spoiler,” said the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. “When there is less air and the air is so turbulent back there, the spoiler is so small it’s real easy to get the pressure off of it, and then the back just rotates around.
“We can adjust rear shocks, rear ride height and try to get more pitch in the car in a sense to keep the spoiler up in the air longer.”