By Pete Pistone
(Johnson believes the No. 48 Chevrolet will be in both pack draft and tandem situations in the Daytona 500)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson is ready to begin his quest to climb back on top the Sprint Cup Series mountain but he’s not sure what to expect in the first race of the season.
Johnson knows pack racing will be back in play for Sunday’s Daytona 500 but doesn’t believe we’ve seen the end of tandem drafting either.
He’s been intently watching the races that have gone on during Speedweeks to try and gauge how Sunday’s 500 may play out.
“It’s been fun,” Johnson said Saturday at Daytona. “When I’m watching points races like I watched the Truck race last night. You can see the range of emotions of what happens. We will have that same type of thing in our race.
“The Shootout is fun because there aren’t any points and you can just have at it. But, when the points are on the line the pack racing can be frustrating. The tandem racing can be frustrating; I think it is plate racing. We are at a plate track and tomorrow afternoon throughout the race you will see a lot of emotions that aren’t excited about plate racing. Fans love it, it puts on a great show and that is what you have to do to win the Daytona 500.”
While his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has publicly dismissed the idea of hanging back in the field for most of the race before hooking up with Johnson in a two-car draft to the front, the five-time champion won’t completely rule out that strategy.
“That chance is there,” Johnson said. “The one thing about this package is that track position is important from a handling perspective and a cooling perspective. I think on any restart you will see a lot of activity just trying to get track position and be in the right scenario for those reasons.
“Once we settle into a groove I would expect a lot of patience out of people. We know that you can’t win the race in the first 499 miles. That element could be there. The one thing that does change that is the deeper in the pack you are the easier your car is going to overheat. It can go either way I just don’t know at this time what to really expect.”