WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Jimmie Johnson may not have a road course victory on his extensive Sprint Cup Series resume, but it’s not for lack of trying.
Johnson, who has won the past three Cup championships, earned his first series road course pole Friday and will lead the field in Sunday’s Heluva Good! at the Glen at Watkins Glen International.
Johnson started first in the 2004 race at Watkins Glen, but rain canceled qualifying and Johnson received the No. 1 starting position by virtue of leading the car owner standings.
His previous best start on a road course through qualifying was a pair of second-place starts at Sonoma, Calif., in 2005 and 2008.
“I’m looking for that first road course win,” said Johnson, whose previous best road course finish was third at Watkins Glen in 2007. “I think that we’re getting closer and closer.
“At Sonoma, we overcame a lot and finished fourth and I left there extremely optimistic for this race. Last year, we were really fast.”
Johnson’s lap at 123.633 mph just barely eclipsed that of Kurt Busch (123.619 mph), who was fastest in the Friday afternoon practice session.
Last weekend’s race winner, Denny Hamlin, will start third. Marcos Ambrose will start fourth and David Stremme fifth. Series points leader Tony Stewart will line up 13th.
Johnson said with his background in off-road racing, he expected to adjust well to road racing in the Cup series.
In his first eight road course races – four each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen – Johnson had three top-five finishes. He also finished 35th or worse three times.
“It’s been kind of weird for me and I don’t understand it,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what it is about the Cup car that I’ve had some troubles with, but I’m getting closer and I think more seat time is helpful.”
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates don’t think his absence from Victory Lane at a road course diminishes his stellar Cup record.
“I think he’s proven how good he is by winning at so many different tracks already,” said Jeff Gordon, who has nine road course wins. “I’m sure in his mind he would like to add that to his resume to complete it. I know he’s worked hard at it.
“That’s what makes a good road course driver is somebody who is challenged by it and enjoys that challenge and goes after it. Jimmie certainly has.”
Mark Martin agrees.
“You know he’s the guy I call Superman and I don’t think Superman needs a road course win to complete (his resume),” Martin said of Johnson. “He doesn’t have to win a road course race to continue to be Superman in my book.
“He’s fast. He’s fast on a road course. But we’ll push him (to win one) anyway. He is very competitive and I think it’s one of those matter-of-time-deals when everything has to line up just right.”
Joe Nemechek, Brian Simo and David Gilliland failed to make the field for Sunday’s race.
Road-racing ace Boris Said, who has had fast cars at the Glen in recent years only to see his chance at qualifying ruined by bad weather, will start ninth.