Johnson 'always had a bit of enjoyment in shutting up' doubters

So far, so good for the debut of a revamped Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team this season.

Johnson 'always had a bit of enjoyment in shutting up' doubters
Nascar test
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports
Nascar Test
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Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Lowe's Rookie Throwback
Jimmie Johnson livery
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Lowe's Rookie Throwback
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Lowe's for Pros
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Lowe's
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro shows damage after a crash
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Lowe's for Pros
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro shows damage after a crash

The driver, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, remains the same, but this week’s test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway featured the debut of new crew chief, Kevin Meendering, and four to five other new crew members.

Much to the delight of Johnson’s fans, his No. 48 Chevrolet was among the fastest in the two-day test and ran up front in most of the 25-lap drafting sessions.

 

“In general, I think our Hendrick Motorsports cars are closer to the other cars that are here at the test. We’ve had some great single-lap speed and have been very competitive in the draft,” Johnson told Motorsport.com.

“Thursday was a very smooth day for that many new faces on a team. Certainly with Kevin and myself, it just kind of went smoothly honestly. I’m thinking back to a tire test we did in October, that was helpful, and the time we’ve spent around each other in the offseason has paid off.”

Feeling different

Now entering his 18th fulltime season in the Cup series, Johnson has entered a new year in a multitude of scenarios, but never with a new leader of his team.

“It feels different. It’s still so new and I’m not sure how the year is going to go just yet. What is really neat is that Kevin has not wavered one bit – he’s here to win races and the championship,” Johnson said.

“There is no ‘let’s get up to speed’ type thing and ‘learn each other’ thing. We both have said it publicly – we’re here to race and that’s the bottom line. That part is very familiar. The No. 48 is still the 48, the expectations are there and everybody is on board.”

Johnson said he was thankful for the organizational test, even though it prevented himself and several others in Las Vegas from attending Friday night’s NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Charlotte, N.C.

He did get an opportunity to work with Meendering in a race-type setting and got some first-hand experience with the new aero package.

“The cars are sensitive to the adjustments that are made. Three of the (first) four draft sessions, we were very competitive. The (Friday morning session), we weren’t as competitive,” Johnson said.

“There are so many ways to get speed out of a race car and to have these sessions to try some really major concept ideas or changes is very helpful. We’ve definitely found one we don’t want to run already.”

Finding motivation in proving doubters wrong

In several interviews in recent weeks, Johnson has insisted he is not yet ready to call it a career and is anxious to turn the page to another chapter in his NASCAR Hall of Fame worthy career.

“I find motivation in a lot of ways. There have been plenty that have doubted me recently and some who have doubted me my entire career, honestly,” he said. “I’ve always had a bit of enjoyment in shutting them up. I’m looking forward to that opportunity this year.

“When I look back to the 2018 season that was just a mess. Chad (Knaus) and I were really struggling, it just wasn’t a fun year by any stretch. Just to have a new year and turn the page on that chapter of the No. 48 and get a fresh start – there is something new and cool about fresh starts.

“I clearly wanted to make it to the end of my career with Chad. It didn’t pan out. But this fresh start is good, everyone seems much more relaxed.”

Pos. Driver Time Speed
1 Brad Keselowski 30.263 178.436mph
2 Austin Dillon 30.340 177.983
3 Clint Bowyer 30.346 177.948
4 Jimmie Johnson 30.346 177.948
5 Ryan Newman 30.355 177.895
6 Paul Menard 30.371 177.801
7 Kurt Busch 30.377 177.766
8 Kyle Busch 30.451 177.334
9 Ryan Preece 30.464 177.258
10 Bubba Wallace 30.468 177.235
11 Matt DiBenedetto 30.493 177.090
12 Drew Herring 30.597 176.488
13 Ty Dillon 30.609 176.419
14 Landon Cassill 30.812 175.256
15 Ross Chastain 31.088 173.700
16 David Ragan 31.492 171.472

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Series NASCAR Cup
Author Jim Utter
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