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Is Jimmie Johnson’s pole at The Glen enough to satisfy you?

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 9, 2009

OK, so Jimmie Johnson doesn’t have a road-course victory on his resume yet – a fact which he was reminded of several times Friday at Watkins Glen.

But he does have a road-course pole to his credit now, after his fast lap on a pleasant New York afternoon edged out Kurt Busch for the top spot.

Maybe that will do something to quiet those who believe Johnson’s resume is incomplete without a road-course win. It’s a bit ridiculous, if you ask me.

People are still waiting for Johnson to win at a non-oval track (even more than a place like Bristol, for instance) because they view it as the truest test of driver ability. But while road-courses are definitely a great tribute to driver talent, so are three straight Cup championships.

Actually, I’d take the three titles over a road-course win – wouldn’t you?

Rest assured, Johnson said a road-course victory is now at the top of his list. And he’ll get there. (Which means all of you are now in trouble for opening your mouths about this. When Team 48 concentrates on something like this, it is in the bag it will eventually happen)

“It’s just taken me a long time – we only do it twice a year – to figure it out,” Johnson said.

In reality, Johnson doesn’t need a road-course victory to prove anything. Actually, he has nothing left to prove.

But for those looking for some greater proof of Johnson’s talent (again, silly given his accomplishments), how about Friday’s pole?

Think about it: There’s no other place where the driver has more to do with winning the pole. Superspeedway poles are almost 100 percent about the car and intermediate tracks are perhaps 75-25 car/driver.

Road-course poles are one lap, one shot at coming the closest to a perfect lap when everyone is trying their hardest.

The winner of that little contest on Friday was Johnson. Satisfied yet?

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Soldier to be honored at Watkins Glen

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 8, 2009

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Madonna will be honored as a “Hometown Hero” during the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen weekend at Watkins Glen International.

Madonna, of North Syracuse, was injured in an explosion two years ago while serving in Iraq. He now works with the U.S. Army’s Wounded Warrior Program, which helps soldiers recover from devastating injuries.

At the track, Madonna will tour the garage, hauler and pit areas, and he’ll meet the U.S. Army Racing Team of the Sprint Cup No. 39 Chevy Impala driven by Ryan Newman.

Madonna will watch the race from the grandstand, and he will talk to fans who visit the Army’s Strength in Action Zone, an interactive area featuring simulators, fitness tests and other challenges that allow race fans to experience what a soldier’s life is like.

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Max Papis top Raybestos Rookie in Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen Qualifying

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 8, 2009

2009 Raybestos Rookie Contender

2009 Raybestos Rookie Contender

Where the Raybestos Rookies qualified at Watkins Glen:

Papis 16th
Speed 26th
Logano 35th

RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE CONTENDER QUALIFYING QUOTES FOR THE HELUVA GOOD! SOUR CREAM DIPS AT THE GLEN NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES RACE AT WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL.

MAX PAPIS IN THE No. 13 GEICO TOYOTA WAS THE TOP RAYBESTOS ROOKIE IN QUALIFYING TODAY AT WATKINS GLEN.

Papis will start 16th in Sunday’s race, his best start in 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

Papis was the Raybestos Rookie of the Race at Infineon (Sonoma, Calif.) Raceway earlier this season (race No. 16) where he scored a career-best 12th-place finish.

All three Raybestos Rookies entered at Watkins Glen qualified for the race.

PAPIS: DOES QUALIFYING GET ANY EASIER ON FRIDAY AFTERNOONS? “No, it doesn’t get any easier let me tell you. We did a great job all day today with the GEICO crew. They gave me a great car. You know being out of the top-35 is definitely something that requires all the mental effort. You can’t really go out and push it super-hard because there is too much to risk. I pushed myself. I said go, go hard, go hard, doesn’t matter. Even if it comes back in a ball of fire it’s better like that than not making the show. It’s still not easy to push yourself when you know that a slip of a half a second can cost the race and the effort of the weekend. So far I’m really pleased and we’ve got a fast car in the GEICO Toyota. Let me tell something: I really love all the crowd out here. I want to say thanks to all the people. Thanks for all the support because you guys mean the world for me and you are riding with me. Thanks a lot guys. Love you.”

ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE ON A ROAD COURSE VERSUS AN OVAL? “You know here we got to test the car and we knew what we h ad in our hands. So it was like alright, we know that if we do a good job we can go fast. It’s not easy when you are going to new tracks like ovals where we’ve never been, never run the car once, and you’ve only got six or eight laps to prove how you can do it. It’s difficult but it’s relatively easier.”

WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD FOR YOU HERE ON SUNDAY? “Win the race. I really feel that, you know, I’m going to be out there grinding my teeth and pushing as hard as I can and I think that’s definitely the way you need to race these races. If you are conservative you go backward.”

SCOTT SPEED, No. 82 RED BULL TOYOTA:

ARE YOU PLEASED WIT THAT LAP? “I think we said before going in there we knew we didn’t have good pace. We’ve been struggling with the braking area since we got here. I’d say for us it was a good lap. It was really clean, did everything I wanted it do so I’m really happy with that. We got it solidly in the show and you know we have all day tomorrow to make it better for the race.”

WHAT DOES YOUR CAR NEED TO DO TO PASS CARS HERE AND FOR YOU TO HAVE A GOOD DAY ON SUNDAY? “Stop [laughs]. If it stops good and if it comes off the corner good you’re going to have a good day.”

JOEY LOGANO, No. 20 THE HOME DEPOT TOYOTA:

THIS WAS A CHALLENGING DAY FOR YOU. “I don’t know, I just screwed up by three tenths my qualifying lap so I deserve to start in the back.”

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO QUALIFY HERE? YOU HAVE LIMITED EXPERIENCE. “It’s tough. It’s definitely one place that I feel like the Nationwide car hurt me for qualifying at least where I just overdrove every corner after getting out of the other car. You don’t realize how much more speed you’re carrying over here than over there and drove it off the racetrack. At least we know we’re better than where we’re starting but I have my work cut out for me.”

MY WORD

GO JOEY GO! WIN the Raybestos Rookie Contender Award! YOU ARE THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, SHOW THEM!

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JJ’s Kryptonite?

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 8, 2009

Come to think of it, Jimmie Johnson does share some physical similarities with the man in cape.

Thinking on it, Johnson does share some physical similarities with the man in cape.

Three-time Sprint Cup champion. Three-time Brickyard winner. Daytona 500 winner. There’s not a lot missing from Jimmie Johnson’s résumé. Except a road course win.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — … but he’s never won on a road course.

That’s the empty end phrase on Jimmie Johnson‘s Cup résumé, after the three straight championships, the most wins (43) of anyone since he’s been at this level, the Daytona 500 win, the top five in points every season, etc. …

His credentials are so hefty that since Mark Martin started calling him Superman a couple of weeks ago after Johnson won his third Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in four years, the nickname is showing signs of sticking.

And, “he doesn’t have to win a road course to continue to be Superman in my book,” Martin said Friday, just before practice began for Sunday’s Heluva Good at the Glen road race.

Well, Martin’s got his book, and I’ve got mine.

In every Superman movie I’ve seen, he’s been able to turn right as well as left in flight.

Not that Johnson can’t. He led 17 laps here last year before falling back with a flat tire. He’s on the pole for Sunday with a qualifying speed of 123.633 mph on Friday. His peers say he’s quite a road racer, for whom the breaks just haven’t fallen right.

But until and unless they do … well … I’ll gladly acknowledge that Johnson is the top NASCAR driver of his time, but I won’t join the Superman cult.

Not that road racing is anywhere near the point of the NASCAR exercise. But it is one small element to be mastered if a driver is to be deemed fully a maestro.

Think about it: The others who arguably qualify as NASCAR’s most talented — Jeff GordonTony Stewart, even Kyle Busch — all have won multiple road races.

Stewart doesn’t think it matters much. “I think three championships are enough to overcome not having won on a road course,” he said.

But, Stewart acknowledged, “There’s a lot of pride amongst the drivers in being able to win at every discipline, and win at every racetrack. So I’m sure that’s something that’s high on his priority list.”

It is. In fact, Johnson even said Friday that he’d rather win here than the half-mile oval at Bristol, Tenn., that has notoriously given him fits.

And no one is more baffled than Johnson at his lack of serpentine success.

“I don’t feel like I need it to complete my résumé,” he said Friday. But, “It’s been shocking to me.” He meant on a recurring basis, since he arrived at Cup level in 2002, considering his background in off-road racing, which usually is excellent preparation for NASCAR road racing — witness Robby Gordon‘s success.

“It’s been kind of that weird thing for me, and I don’t understand it,” Johnson said. “Certainly in other vehicles — in a Grand Am [prototype] car, I’ve been extremely fast in wet conditions.

“So I don’t know what it is about this Cup car that I’ve had troubles with.”

But, “I think we’re getting closer and closer, and I’m hopeful that it’s this weekend. At Sonoma [in June] we overcame a lot and finished fourth, and left extremely optimistic for this race.

“Last year we were really fast here, had a cut tire and had to come back from pitting under green [to finish seventh],” he said.

Said Boris Said, the ESPN analyst and part-time NASCAR driver who is guru and teacher of road racing to most Cup drivers, “I don’t think it’s if he’s going to win a road race, it’s just when, and how many.”

Martin, the preeminent road racer in NASCAR in the early ’90s, agreed that for Johnson, “it’s one of those matter-of-time deals.”

“I usually am a slow learner, but once I pick up something I own it,” Johnson said, “and I don’t let go of it … when I figure out how to really get around this place I’m sure I’ll be on it and do well with it.”

Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR’s two road racers since childhood, figure Johnson already has the technique.

“I was shocked when I learnt that Jimmie hasn’t won on a road course,” Ambrose said. “He’s as good as anybody. I follow him and he races me hard, and if I’m looking at the list on any week at a road course of who’s a threat to win, Jimmie’s on my list. So I’m surprised he hasn’t managed to close the deal. But he’s very talented.”

“He seems to be doing always a good job on road courses,” Montoya said. “Last year at Sonoma he was really fast.”

“I know he’s worked really hard at it,” said Johnson teammate Jeff Gordon, NASCAR’s all-time best road racer with nine wins. “And that’s what makes a good road course driver, is somebody who’s challenged by it and enjoys that challenge and goes after it. And he certainly has.”

Johnson’s lack of success might lie with a weak point in otherwise mighty Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon suggested.

“Other than maybe the first couple of years he was at Hendrick, I’m not so sure we’ve had the best package out there on the road courses the last three or four years,” Gordon said. “When I was winning all of our road races, I felt like we did have the best package, and I did my part.

“So I think if we step up our package a little bit — and hopefully that can happen this weekend — I think that Jimmie can definitely challenge for a win.”

And then …

… he’ll have won on a road course.

Résumé complete for Superman.

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Johnson wins first road course pole at The Glen

Posted by Digory Kirke on August 8, 2009

JJ pole win Watkins Gleen 2009 Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won a Cup race on a road course, but now he has a leg up on that accomplishment.

Johnson turned a lap of 71.340 seconds (123.633 mph) Friday at 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International to win the pole for Sunday’s Heluva Good! at The Glen, edging Kurt Busch (123.619 mph) for the top starting spot by .008 seconds.

The pole was Johnson’s first of the season and the 20th of his career but his first on a road course.Denny Hamlin (123.093 mph) qualified third, followed by road-course ace Marcos Ambrose(123.045 mph) and David Stremme (122.824 mph), Busch’s teammate at Penkse Racing.

Ryan NewmanGreg BiffleKyle Busch, road-course specialist Boris Said and Juan Montoya will take the green flag in positions six through 10, respectively. Casey Mears rolls off 11th besideKasey Kahne, a winner earlier this year at Infineon Raceway, who posted the 12th-fastest time. Series points leader Tony Stewart qualified 13th.

Johnson didn’t put down a perfect lap, but it was fast enough.

“It was a really cool day for us, to get the pole,” Johnson said. “We were close at Sonoma once or twice and lost it by small margins. But to get it done, hopefully, shows the progress that I’m making and the team is making on road courses.

“[Friday] was just one lap, and there’s a lot of laps to be made and a lot of racing on Sunday, but hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for us.”

After watching Hamlin run .256 seconds slower than his fastest practice time, Kurt Busch decided to take a conservative approach.

“When I saw that Denny Hamlin run a (71.65), I thought that that dropped off a bunch from his pace in practice, so that gave me the conservative mindset, and I just got beat flat out in the braking zones.

“Yeah, it’s tough to lose by eight thousandths, but it’s a front-row starting spot, and the big prize is on Sunday.”

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