By: Ashley McCubbin
Jimmie Johnson has been around motorsports from a young age, so it’d be easily understandable if he is used to everything surrounding the race. However, that wasn’t the case on the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona grid on Saturday, knowing he was the going to be the first to drive the No. 48 Ally Racing Cadillac in the famed event.
“I didn’t want to be the one to break the toy,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “So to miss some of the carnage and the few close calls that I had, including an LMP2 car getting off the kink and coming back on the track – that really got my attention. I couldn’t really see with the dust in the air and I picked the right lane and was able to sneak on by. It’s certainly a lot of nerves to deliver the car in one piece. I’m certainly glad to have that out of the way so I can go relax.”
While admitting there was butterflies, Johnson says he is having fun returning to the event for the first time in 10 years, and being able to work alongside familiar faces in Chad Knaus and Jeff Gordon.
“The first race of any year, there’s butterflies for me, and then being in an unfamiliar car, unfamiliar sport and wondering about the restart procedures and wanting to get it right, and no restart zones like the Cup Car so it isn’t the same as what I’m used to,” he explained. “There was a lot going through my mind so nerves were probably higher than I wanted them to be, but at the same time, I looked around and saw what I was looking to do, and thought it was pretty cool.”
Now with an additional stint since then under his belt, Johnson says his focus remains on trying to take care of the car each time he is on the track, while making the best lap time possible.
Though he is also the first to admit that his laps nowhere compare at times to Kamui Kobayashi.
“He is just insane as a driver,” Johnson commented. “When I look at the driver traits and try to understand where to make lap time, my biggest issue has been into the bus stop – it’s such a biggest risk, but there’s so much room to make up lap time. But combined with his SportsCar experience and his experience in high downforce cars and bravery he has, he’s just a monster through there.
“Even Simon and I, and Rocky have looked at the data and can’t believe how fast he gets through there and how committed he is. I think his years in a Formula 1 car have just slowed down his hands and eyes, and when he gets into a car like this year, it’s not a Formula 1 and he can throw it around like a lower division car and make lap time.”
Being able to learn from Kobayashi, and take on his advice, though, is part of the pieces to why it makes this experience so memorable and special for Johnson.
“I’ve realized that the stress and anxiety and the butterflies, adrenaline, heart racing, questioning if I can do it – that’s what I’ve experienced my whole life, and it makes me feel alive,” he commented. “Some day, I won’t have that opportunity but I’m not ready to walk away from that now and I really like being uncomfortable, and how it makes me feel, and how it holds me accountable. I’ve just jumped into the deep end of the pool with weights around my ankles and it makes me feel alive.”