INDIANAPOLIS—You’d think a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and a four-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would have adapted quickly to racing at the Brickyard, but that wasn’t the case for Jimmie Johnson.
Before Johnson found success at the marquee track, he had to start thinking outside the box and drive in a manner that was counter-intuitive.
“My natural tendencies just didn’t work around this track,” Johnson said Friday before opening Sprint Cup practice at the 2.5-mile speedway. “I had to make a conscious effort to drive differently. I’ve been playing that movie in my head, coming here getting ready for this weekend’s race.
“So there are tracks that your natural driving tendencies suit, and this just isn’t one of them for me. So I’ve got to change my game coming here. And I’ve been able to identify with it. I think that’s half the battle, is just to understand that (you) don’t do what you think you need to do. Try to think in an opposite manner to find speed.”
It took several years, however, for that realization to register.
“There’s certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team,” Johnson said. “For me, this was one of the toughest ones I came to. Took me a long time to get it. The light finally turned on in my head, I think maybe it was ’04, ’05.
“Mid-race I’m like ‘I’ve driven this track wrong since practice opened, set the car up wrong and led my team in the wrong direction.’ In the race it really dawned on me.”
That “dawning” was the functional equivalent of a blazing sunrise. Johnson won races at Indy in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012. Last year, he finished second to race winner Ryan Newman.