NASCAR: Phoenix

Jimmie Johnson on ride of his life after big win

The Charlotte ObserverMarch 2, 2013 

— Jimmie Johnson tested the “too much of a good thing’’ theory all week, and his string of obligations will run through today’s Nationwide Race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Johnson hasn’t driven a Nationwide event since 2011. That was in Watkins Glen, N.Y., a distinctive road course where drivers often look to get extra practice. This weekend isn’t all that different; Johnson didn’t like his results at the 1-mile track here when he blew a tire in the fall.

Long ago, he committed to driving Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports No. 5 car in the support race in Phoenix. This track’s repaved layout means even the best drivers are searching for where the racing grooves will be.

“I just truthfully needed to be better at this track, and it’s tough to get laps’’ here, Johnson said Friday. “We considered coming out and testing. But with the tire change and the test policy for Cup, it just wasn’t going to work.

“So the next-best thing was driving the Nationwide Series. I have no clue what I’m going to learn from those cars that will carry over (to Sprint Cup), but reps on this track can’t hurt me.’’

What could hurt him is the wild week that ensued after Johnson won the Daytona 500 on Sunday. It’s a nice problem, but Johnson was overwhelmed by the off-track obligations that built up.

Regardless of his finish in Daytona, this was going to be a long week. Lowe’s, the Mooresville, N.C.,-based home-improvement chain that sponsors his No. 48 Chevrolet, held its national sales meeting in Las Vegas this week. That’s an automatic appearance in Johnson’s schedule.

Particularly so after Lowe’s re-upped its sponsorship, in a deal announced after Sunday’s victory.

Johnson sounded optimistic and breezy Friday, but also a little fried. The interview requests were a constant through the week in a way that overwhelmed even a multi-time Sprint Cup champion.

Johnson said either the attention has grown or he forgot what a big deal it is to win NASCAR’s biggest race: “It felt like I was on a champion’s tour.’’

Martin to start up front

Mark Martin will be on the pole at Phoenix International Raceway for the second straight year after becoming the second-oldest pole-sitter in NASCAR history.

Martin’s speed of 138.075 mph earned him his 56th career pole after finishing third in the Daytona 500.

Martin turned 54 in January, leaving him a few months short of beating Harry Gant as the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole. Gant was 54 when he won his last pole at Bristol in 1994.

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Scoreboard, C5

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