Friday Daytona NASCAR Notebook: Jimmie Johnson Quickly Up To Speed In Backup Car

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images for NASCAR)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson is down to his last car.

That’s the bad news. A last-lap wreck in Thursday’s second Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races destroyed Johnson’s primary No. 48 Chevrolet and forced him to a backup car for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET).

But fans of the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion can take heart in Johnson’s performance in Friday’s practice sessions. The backup No. 48 Chevy was actually faster in single-car runs than the primary car in Thursday’s practice.

True, the wind was blowing in a different direction at Daytona International Speedway, but Johnson ran 194.083 mph in Friday’s opening session and backed that up with a lap at 194.250 mph in the second practice of the day.

“We’re minimizing risk, because that’s our last car,” Johnson said of the single-car runs, as his team was replacing his engine with the one he will use in Sunday’s race. “If something happened in one of the practice sessions, we’d be going to a teammate or somebody, trying to use one of their backups and then put a wrap over the top of it.

“That’s just a world we don’t want to be in. We get a lot of experience in the draft through all the races that take place, and it’s just something that… we’ve done enough, and we know what our race-time adjustments need to be and the balance that I’m looking for. So for us, it’s just business as usual, and it gives everybody else something to talk about.”

Johnson said the change in wind direction made it difficult to compare the primary and backup cars, but he described the backup as “very comfortable.”

“I think we finished second with it at Talladega last year (in the spring race)… We didn’t want to lose that race car last night, but things are going good with this one.”


While Jimmie Johnson was squeezing speed out of his Chevrolet in single-car runs, the most formidable Toyotas in the field were dominating the speed chart in a mini-draft.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards hooked up with Furniture Row affiliate Martin Truex Jr. to post the fastest four laps in Friday’s second Daytona 500 practice session.

Hamlin, who won last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited, had the top speed at 199.658 mph, followed by Busch (198.640 mph), the winner of Thursday’s second Can-Am Duel, and Truex, who matched Busch’s speed in a backup car necessitated by the same wreck that KO’d Johnson on Thursday night.

Edwards was fourth fastest at 198.610 mph, and after those four drivers established the draft, JGR teammate Matt Kenseth, another victim of the last-lap wreck in the second Duel, joined party in a backup car.

“We seemed to have pretty good speed out there,” said Kenseth, who was fifth on the chart at 198.566 mph. “I got to run with my teammates there a little bit, and that was encouraging, and the single-car speed seemed like it was pretty much as good as the other car.

“These guys build great race cars, and I feel pretty bad that I’ve been wrecking ‘em all. I appreciate all the work they’re doing, and hopefully we’ll get this thing all tuned in tomorrow (during Saturday’s final practice) and be good on Sunday.”

Kenseth had qualified second for the Daytona 500 during last Sunday’s time trials, but must drop to the rear of the field to start the race in the backup No. 20 Toyota.


When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holds its final practice on Saturday, Ryan Blaney and No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford won’t be taking part.

Blaney, who finished third in Thursday night’s first Can-Am Duel, shook down his car on Friday after his team changed to the Daytona 500 engine. The No. 21 won’t see any more action on the track until the green flag drops for the Great American Race.

“Everyone swaps over to their race engines today pretty much,” said Blaney, who was sixth fastest overall and quickest in the Ford camp during Friday’s second practice session. “That’s what we did, so we wanted to go out there for 10 laps just to make sure there were no leaks and everything runs smoothly.

“We got enough data for the engine guys to look at and make sure everything is OK, so that was just a test run on our race motor. We’re not going to run (on Saturday), so all we have to do now is get ready and make sure everything is ready to go for the 500.”

With his third-place finish in the Duel—where he rallied from one lap down—Blaney earned the fifth starting spot in Sunday’s race.


Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez, the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, was honored Friday as the recipient of the Ignition Award, given annually to a minority or female NASCAR national series driver who demonstrates leadership both on and off the race track while helping to foster diversity in the sport.

Suarez received one of eight awards conferred during the ninth annual NASCAR Diversity Awards luncheon at Daytona International Speedway.

Two members of Roush Fenway Racing’s NASCAR XFINITY Series championship team, Rafael Diaz and Mike Russell, received the crew member award for inspiring awareness of NASCAR through competitive performance and outreach activities.

Other recipients of NASCAR Diversity Awards were: Sirius XM radio personality Claire B. Lang (Industry Ambassador Award); 2014 NASCAR Mexico Series champion Abraham Calderon (Diverse Driver Award); Victoria Kim (Outstanding Intern Award); National Association of Black Journalists (Institution Award); Chevrolet (Partner Award); and Macy Causey (Young Racer Award).

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