It might be time for Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team to stop experimenting and go with what they know works at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Johnson has had mixed results this year, including a third-place finish at Phoenix and 16th at Las Vegas. He is the defending winner of the spring race on the high-banked concrete short track.
Johnson and his team have been experimenting with different setups early in the season, but Johnson indicated on a conference call with reporters Tuesday that not much changes as far as setups at Bristol.
“The short-track stuff, over the years, it does migrate a little bit towards the new technology but [what works at] the Martinsvilles, the Bristols doesn’t change,” Johnson said.
What also won’t change is the five-time Cup champion’s approach, and his approach following the Bristol race is to develop more speed at tracks where handling and downforce are key.
“There are some years where you spend the offseason and you work in all the right areas and you show up to the track and you have a ton of speed,” Johnson said. “This year, it just hasn’t been that way.”
During the Chase last year, Johnson said his team felt as if it had done all it could with the way his cars were built and set up and they still seemed to be a tick behind some of the top competition.
So this past offseason, the team tried to implement some new setups. So far, it hasn’t produced the results Johnson was looking for.
Johnson qualified 28th at Phoenix before rallying to finish third. At Las Vegas, he was lapped early in the race by Tony Stewart but eventually got back on the lead lap.
“This offseason, we worked hard to reinvent our mousetrap, make it faster and [have] more grip and work in some areas that we didn’t overlook, but we didn’t see a lot of gains in the past,” Johnson said.
“Maybe we didn’t go far enough. We’re working with a different mindset at the start of the season, seeing if there is anything there. At times we see speed and hope. Other times, we haven’t.”
Johnson liked the speed he saw at times at Phoenix and Las Vegas, but he couldn’t maintain it throughout the weekend or a race.
“We didn’t have the consistent weekend from start to finish that we wanted, but at different points in the race, especially later in the race, we had a competitive car,” Johnson said. “[At] Phoenix, [we] finished third. Vegas, worked our way into the top 10, [we] rebounded from just a miss on the setup because we’re still developing our cars.
“Without testing, we’re bringing a lot of new stuff to the track. … Chad [ ] made some great adjustments on the car and go into the top 10 and then we had some issues late in the race and we faded back. I left there really disappointed we didn’t finish inside the top 10.”
Johnson heads to Bristol 12th in the Cup standings.
“There’s no quick fix,” he said. “It’s going to take a little time.
“Until we get our cars back where we want them, we need to really focus on finishing in the top 10 to keep up in the points so we don’t find ourselves in a big hole. … Going into Bristol, I think we’ll have a great shot to win there.”