CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson did not have the start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway he planned on.
After failing pre-race inspection, he had to take the green flag from the rear of the field in 36th. But even with the difficult starting position – and falling behind by a lap to the leaders – Johnson recovered to salvage a 12th-place result.
“We just kept chipping away at it all day long,” he said. “The last restart we had to start at the tail end. I wish we would have had a chance to start up in there with everybody – I think we could have been up inside the top 10.”
Johnson gained nine positions to finish Stage 1 in 27th despite having tire issues at the beginning of the race. He was more than a lap behind the leaders, but the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion remained poised.
“That first set of tires, those scuffs we were on were really off for our car,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what went on there. We just put tires on for the second run and had a lot more pace in the car and it was a lot easier to drive.”
Johnson continued to pass competitors and moved up to 20th by the end of Stage 2.
Even though he found himself off of the lead lap, it didn’t affect the No. 48 team’s determination.
“You just go,” Johnson said.
He gained eight more positions before the checkered flag waved, finishing in 12th – an improvement of 24 positions from his starting spot.
Still, Johnson and the No. 48 team are looking for even more as the season progresses. And all of the Hendrick Motorsports teams are getting more and more comfortable inside their new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s.
“Every outing we are learning more about it,” Johnson said. “Today, I was in a lot of different aero situations that at first I was flinching in and then I grew very comfortable with and kept charging and driving through. I think the body is definitely helping the car, we’ve just got some other stuff to sort out to go along with it and kind of find the sweet spot for the car.”
As the West Coast swing moves to Phoenix this weekend, Johnson hopes to build on his Las Vegas performance.
“Phoenix has turned into an aero track, just with the repave and the higher speeds to a small degree,” the driver said. “Fontana will be like Atlanta. We are always learning. This car is so new to us we are still learning every time we get on track.”