DOVER, Del. – Qualifying hasn’t been Jimmie Johnson’s strong suit this season, but race trim is a different matter for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Through the first 12 races of the season, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has recorded an average starting position of 16.1—lackluster to say the least. On the other hand, Johnson has also claimed a series-best three victories and is guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
So even though the 48 failed to advance to the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying and will start 14th in Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks, Johnson isn’t worried, especially since he’s racing at a track where he’s already won nine times.
“I think, in a sense, we didn’t make the changes we needed to, or thought we needed to change because the car had so much speed in that first practice session (on Friday),” Johnson said of his effort during time trials. “But it’s a totally different race track from then. We tried to plan ahead and made some small changes, but it wasn’t enough. It is so black and so little grip compared to what we had this morning.
“So, we’ll get smarter. We’ll learn. We’ll put this in our notes for the next trip back here on this tire combination and get smarter from it. But this Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet is really fast. We showed that this morning. We qualified decent. And we’ve won from much further back than from 14th this year, so I’m not worried about that at all.”
Coors Light Pole winner Denny Hamlin demonstrated on Saturday that his No. 11 Toyota was fast in race trim, too. Hamlin topped the speed charts in both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions…
In fact, all four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were quick in Happy Hour. Carl Edwards was second behind Hamlin, and the Camrys of Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were fourth and fifth, respectively. The only car able to break up the JGR monopoly in final practice was the Chevrolet of Paul Menard, who was third on the speed chart.