DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- No more Mister Nice Guy.
That's right. NASCAR's ultimate "good guy" Jimmie Johnson figures if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and he said Thursday he's going to rethink the way he goes about race restarts.
"I feel like I'm maybe a little focused on the way the rule reads exactly and paying maybe too close of attention to that,'' Johnson said, reflecting on a late race restart at Kentucky Speedway last Sunday that the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ still questions.
"Maybe I should lighten up and loosen up on the way some (other drivers) restart, and then certainly, the way I do.
"There were a lot of restarts -- especially during the Kentucky race -- that I brought down that I feel like a good citizen, a good student in doing exactly what I'm supposed to. There are other times when I don't feel that exactly happens and it's not called on or viewed from the tower? as the rule reads.''
"At the end of the day, I'm just going to lighten up on how I think about it and use that zone and that area regardless of the way the rule reads to get an advantage and worry about myself.''
And that's about as rebellious as Johnson gets.
Four days after the Quaker State 400, Johnson is still adamant the restarts have not been policed as the rule reads. Last week, he was critical of the way then race leader Matt Kenseth restarted the race with 20 laps to go, convinced Kenseth "broke the speed of the pace car.''
Johnson, who had led a dominating 182 laps, ended up spinning out. The result shuffled him back in the pack and after a frustrated and highly motivated move from the back, he ended up ninth -- hardly the finish he expected after establishing himself a heavy favorite for the win.
Johnson was called for jumping the final restart at Dover International Speedway in June -- that time he was black-flagged and ended up 17th instead of again, possibly hoisting the trophy.
Kenseth said Thursday he understands Johnson's frustration. But he doesn't feel he did anything wrong.
"Probably since Dover at least, I think Jimmie's been very frustrated with restarts,'' Kenseth said.
"And I think last weekend when I look at it ?--and obviously I'm not objective because I was in the race -- but I think that he just didn't have good restarts.
"For whatever reason, his car wouldn't restart fast. We've all had cars like that. I thought he had the superior car, but it just didn't take off real great on restarts. ''
But, Kenseth added, "It's hard to look at Jimmie and the 48 and that team and say there's anything wrong with anything they do. ?It's really hard to pick anything apart about him as a driver or that program. You know if you're going to have a chance to win a race or a championship, you always have to go through the 48.''
Johnson also dismissed the idea that all this to-do about restarts had started getting to him, joking that "I'm not smart enough to let it get in my head.''
And the only driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive Sprint Cup Series championships took full responsibility for not finishing the day in victory lane.
"At times, I mean all drivers can be their own worst enemy,'' Johnson said. "I feel like that one in Kentucky is definitely on me.''
Instead, his argument is that the restart rules are just not being universally enforced in terms of the speed of the leader taking the green.
"We all learn from mistakes for starters, and at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how I interpret the rule, it's how it's enforced,'' Johnson said.
"That is the thing that I'm trying to focus on now. It doesn't matter how I read it, what I think. ?the way it's enforced is all that matters. That is where I'm focusing now.''
Having had several days to review, analyze and settle, Johnson is now more matter of fact than aggravated.
Despite the frustration he voiced on the radio to his crew, Johnson drove like a man possessed to still earn a top-10 of the situation at Kentucky -- a resounding reminder for any that doubt the Californian's intensity.
"It might seem that I'm real calm all the time, but I think all drivers leave the track frustrated with something,'' Johnson said. "I rarely leave the track and not go home in deep thought thinking about what I could have done differently.
"They sting a bit more when you lead all those laps and don't leave with the trophy; there is no doubt about it. But I've been doing this long enough to know how to shrug that stuff off, focus on what is important and what I can learn from and then go to the next race.''
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