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Triathlons or 600-mile stock car races: No problem for Johnson

The SportsXchange

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

May 23, 2013: Weekend Preview

Long distances don't scare Jimmie Johnson.

It doesn't matter whether he's running a triathlon or driving a 3,300-lb. stock car at upwards of 200 mph, he enjoys both, and is pretty good at both.

Though most NASCAR fans know how adept Johnson is at piloting a race car through the banked turns at the 23 tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, some may not be aware of his success away from the tracks.

He's competed in several triathlons and half-marathons. As a matter of fact he competed in an Olympic-distance triathlon (0.93-mile swim/24.8-mile cycle/6.2-mile run) in Palm Springs, Calif., last December where he finished first in his age group and eighth overall. On Feb. 17 of this year, he along with several other drivers participated in Daytona Beach's half-marathon (13.1 miles). He competed in the race shortly after finishing the Sprint Showdown

Therefore, it's no surprise that endurance races such as Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6:00 p.m. ET, FOX) at Charlotte Motor Speedway are right up his alley. In fact, the training he does to prepare for the triathlons and half-marathons might provide him with an advantage over his competitors at the speedways.

"It all helps for sure from the physical side. I think the mental side of not feeling good and being uncomfortable for long periods of time is good," said Johnson, who currently leads Carl Edwards in the standings by 44 points. "I feel like I'm a lot smarter now with nutrition and hydration than I was. My body is programmed to live in that environment and deal with those things."

Johnson has experienced great success in NASCAR's longest race having won the 600-mile event in three consecutive years (2003-2005). In addition, he finished second in 2006. In 11 Coca-Cola 600 starts, he has also compiled four top fives, six top 10s and two poles to go along with a driver rating of 108.1. In last year's race, he finished 11th, one lap down.

The high banks of the 1.5-mile track located in Concord, N.C., have always been welcoming to Johnson, who has won six points-paying events in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series there. Add to that total his record four victories in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the most recent coming last Saturday night when he pocketed a cool $1 million.

In 23 points races at Charlotte, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s and three poles. His average driver rating at the track is an impressive series-leading 111.7, four points higher than the next driver. The California native has led 1,439 laps here, third most among all NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks behind Martinsville and Dover.

Over the past eight years, since NASCAR has been collecting loop data, Johnson has the best average starting position (6.2) and average running position (7.9) among active drivers at Charlotte. In addition, he has the best passing differential (205) with the fewest times passed (962) during green-flag racing. He has also logged the highest amount of fastest laps (544) and completed more laps at the track in the top 15 (4,932), almost 400 laps more than the driver with the second-most top-15 laps.

This year, Johnson is currently on pace to capture his sixth title after taking a two-year hiatus from celebrating on the championship stage in Homestead. After the first 11 races, he has only finished outside the top 12 once (22nd in Bristol). He won the season-opening Daytona 500, over Dale Earnhardt Jr., and five races later found Victory Lane again at Martinsville. He has an average finishing position of 6.7 in 2013 with six top fives and eight top 10s.

If Johnson is able to continue on this trajectory through the remainder of the season, it is quite possible that he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team will be the ones hoisting the championship trophy at season's end. He would also be the first driver to win the title in the new Generation 6 race car, which has received rave reviews so far.

Johnson is just one of many who have sung the car's praises.

"I think it's proven to be a fun car to drive, a reliable car," said Johnson. "The car has been very durable, very fun to drive and fast."

Regardless of whether or not Johnson is positioned atop the standings in November, look for a very formidable performance and strong race car this weekend at Charlotte.

Fantasy Focus: When it comes to filling out your fantasy team for this weekend's race, just remember one thing: K -- as in Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth. The three drivers fill out the top four in driver rating average, behind Johnson. Busch, who has led more laps and executed more quality passes here over the past eight years than any other driver, has actually never won here in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series but has won 11 times in the other two national series. Therefore, he's due for a victory. And it's not like he's been terrible in the 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup races he's started -- eight top fives and 11 top 10s. On the flip side, Kahne has won four times with three of them coming in the 600-miler. Over the past eight years of racing at Charlotte he has the second-highest average finishing position (11.3) behind Joey Logano. Over the last three Charlotte races, Kahne has finishes of fourth, first and eighth. Kenseth won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2000, his first start in the event. However, he also has an October Charlotte win (2011) to go along with three runner-up finishes, two of which came in the May points race. This season, his first driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has already notched three wins and seven top 10s. Expect to see that trend continue.

TIME FOR SADLER TO STEP UP

The past two years Elliott Sadler has come so close to capturing the NASCAR Nationwide Series title, only to finish runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

With Stenhouse now competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, conventional wisdom would say it is Sadler's crown to lose this year. And, he just might if he's not able to carve out more top-five finishes with a win sprinkled in here and there.

It's not that he's having a bad season; it's just not a blow-the-doors-off-the-competition, stop-the-presses kind of year many expected. When Sadler and the rest of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team start Saturday afternoon's History 300 (2:45 p.m. ET, ABC) at Charlotte, he'll be third in the standings, 42 points behind leader Regan Smith.

In nine races this season, he has three top fives and five top 10s, including a runner-up finish in the most recent race at Darlington. His team's strong performance at the South Carolina track should provide them a boost of confidence as they prepare for a stretch of 21 consecutive weeks in which the NASCAR Nationwide drivers will be on track.

"This OneMain Financial team has a lot of momentum coming off our second-place finish at Darlington Raceway," said Sadler.

He has made 12 series starts at Charlotte with a driver rating of 93.8, but has never been to Victory Lane. His last three races here have resulted in a fourth, fifth and third, to go along with a second-place finish that come in 2005. In all, he has four top fives and five top 10s with one pole.

So, he's due to take the next step and claim the checkered flag.

Although Sadler will primarily be focused on getting his car to Victory Lane, he is quick to point out the importance of the weekend.

"The teams and the track do such a good job of inviting military members and their families, and celebrating the troops abroad all weekend long," said Sadler. "It's a great weekend as an American and as a race fan to remember what our military does to keep us safe."
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