Jimmie Johnson admits he’s bringing a different mentality to the track now than earlier in his career.
Now 47, and a rookie team owner with Legacy Motor Club, his focus has shifted to what’s best for his organization, and not necessarily what will benefit him the most behind the wheel.
Still, it was easy for Johnson to identify Charlotte Motor Speedway as one of his targets when making his limited driving schedule in the winter.
“For me it’s about the marquee races around the world,” Johnson said. “Daytona 500, Coke 600 – those are the marquee events.”
Charlotte’s all-time leader in NASCAR Cup Series wins with eight, Johnson can add another piece to his legendary resume with a victory Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m., Fox, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Only Darrell Waltrip with five has more Coca-Cola 600 triumphs than Johnson’s four. Johnson won three consecutive Coca-Cola 600s from 2003-05, then added another in 2014.
In two starts this season with Legacy Motor Club (formerly Petty GMS Motorsports) in the No. 84 Chevrolet, he has finished 31st at Daytona in February and 38th at COTA in March.
“I feel about as ill prepared for [Sunday’s] race as I’ve ever have,” Johnson said. “A couple hours [testing] in Phoenix is the only comparable oval experience I’ve had. We had 30 to 40 laps in a simulator and that’s been it. I want to survive the first stage [Sunday] and go from there.
“We are hopeful to have a good running. A top-10 or top-15 would be an awesome finish for us.”
Johnson’s primary concerns are improving the results of Legacy’s two full-time drivers, Erik Jones and Noah Gragson. The best performance this year from that duo is Jones’ sixth-place finish at Talladega in April. Jones is 25th in the Cup Series point standings while Gragson is 32nd.
“Erik continues to show just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s had challenging circumstances this year and he just stays focused and gets the job done. Noah, from afar, I wasn’t sure how seriously he took things. His desire and commitment to his craft is what has impressed me the most.
“We have a massive effort on our hands to figure out many ways to improve. I’m proud of everything going on. I can’t ask for more effort from everyone involved. We just need more consistency.”
Coca-Cola 600 practice and qualifying is scheduled to begin Saturday at 7 p.m.
After his Charlotte visit, Johnson doesn’t have much time to rest as he is scheduled to depart next week for France to participate in next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, another of his coveted global marquee events.
“It’s feeling very real,” Johnson said. “I’m very excited for the opportunity. I honestly don’t know what to expect. Right now, it’s great excitement and curiosity.”
Still, after his overseas adventure, it’s back to building Legacy’s foundation – with maybe some top finishes behind the wheel still in the future.
“It’s been an exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to be in this new element. I truly feel like that I’m part of something that’s going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”
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