On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jimmie Johnson hosted the sixth annual Jimmie Johnson Foundation Golf Tournament and Dinner Auction presented by Lowe’s in San Diego, California.
“It's grown, been so successful over the years,” Johnson says. “I couldn't do it without the great support from clearly Lowe's being the presenting sponsors and then the folks that come out, participate, play golf, attend the dinner.”
The event is meant to raise funds for the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grants, which are awarded to K through 12 schools in the area where Johnson and his wife grew up, as long as the area they currently reside in.
In past years doing the event, it has raised more than $500,000 each year. However, Johnson stated during yesterday’s press conference that this year’s figure as well above that and this is the largest event that they’ve done so far.
To continue his fundraising efforts, Johnson will wear a special helmet this weekend in Sonoma titled the Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope. Each charity featured received $10,000 and an ice cream party from Blue Bunny.
This weekend at Sonoma marks the first road course event of the season for the Sprint Cup Series drivers. In his previous 10 starts, he has a win, three top fives and five top 10s.
“I've always loved the track,” Johnson comments. “The first time I ran on the asphalt was in a Skip Barber car. I love being at the racetrack in Northern California. I was terrible at the race. It took me a while to understand what I needed for a long run, save the tires, to have the team and develop the setup to do that.”
The success has come as of late as in the last three years, he has a fourth, first and seventh. Before that, he only had one top five, which came in 2004.
“The last three or four times we've been there, we've been competitive, got a win,” Johnson continues. “Last year we had some trouble we had to overcome during the race, but still have a respectable finish and a very fast racecar.
“I've been pumped up for it. With my background in racing off-road trucks, virtually road course racing, I've always been mad at myself that it didn't come to me right away. I'm happy I have the speed now and look forward the two times a year I have the chance to show those skills.”
One of the assets that has helped Johnson is that he has being laying down better qualifying laps, therefore putting himself in a better position. Johnson says that if you start up front, there’s a lot more give and take. However, when you start further back, it’s a mess and most drivers don’t want to be involved in that. The reason that there’s more taking than giving is because it’s a tough track to race environment for them due to the cars being so big and heavy.
“There's only a couple passing zones around the track at Sonoma,” Johnson says. “Guys will block like crazy to maintain track position. After a few laps of being blocked, patience runs thin. Guys start running each other over and sending each other off the track.”
Despite there not being a lot of places to pass, Johnson says that there are some spots. One of the spots being when you come up over the hill as you can get down on the inside at the bottom if you get over the top well.
“People don't typically block too much there,” he says. “That's typically not a bad zone to pass.”
Another spot is turn seven as people can set up a pass from behind and pass going on. The last spot is turn 11 after the Ss as Johnson says everybody knows what can happen there with how crazy it usually gets.
“There's only really three passing opportunities around the racetrack,” he says. “If you make a mistake, there's plenty of opportunities to give up time and position. On the offensive side there's really only three passing zones.”
Beyond turning right, another big difference on the road courses is how you have to drive the car.
“On an oval, you're more concerned about just keeping your momentum up in the car,” Johnson explains. “It is a bit line specific on some tracks. We can run from the white line to the wall at the majority of the racetracks.”
However on a road course, it’s more visual as you need to be focus on a specific line so therefore you can continue running well and maybe set someone up later on down the course.
“The flow of that, the line, really where you look in the visual aspect to road course racing is big,” Johnson continues. “I try to remind myself of that. Running on ovals all the time, you develop some bad habits and don't use your eyes as you need to on a road course. That's the thing I tell myself first practice session on, use my eyes. From my braking point, turning point, apex, tracking point.”
Well it means a different aspect for the drivers in now turning right, it also brings a different aspect for the teams as they have to set the car up to turn both ways. Johnson says that on ovals. The mechanics focus more towards making the car turn left in both a mechanical and aero way, including the placement of weight. However, the road course, everything is 50/50 balanced so that way it doesn’t favor a certain type of turn.