Jimmie Johnson torn on testing ban, wants cars that are ‘hard to drive’
Following Tuesday afternoon’s blockbuster announcement that NASCAR will roll out several major rule changes for the 2015 Sprint Cup season, reigning and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson wasted little time before weighing in.
Johnson, speaking at an event promoting next month’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has mixed feelings about easily the most sweeping change of all — NASCAR’s new policy that bans all private pre-season and in-season testing, which promises hefty penalties for any driver and team that doesn’t comply.
"In one respect, we’re like, ‘Great, we don’t have to spend more time away from home and go testing.’ As long as you’re in good shape, you’re going to be happy with that rule," Johnson said. "But we’ve been one that has used Nashville and a lot of other racetracks to advance our cars, so we’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way — at the racetrack, use practice sessions as test sessions, and also fall back on our tools and instruments that we have in-house at Hendrick Motorsports."
If there is an upside to the testing ban, Johnson believes it’s the cost savings that will result.
"Teams that have a budget for testing will reinvest that money in other ways and try to figure out how to advance the cars," said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. "But it will make life easier on teams, especially the manpower and the travel and what goes into it, so I don’t disagree with the move. I’m sure I’m going to miss it at some point during the year, and wish we could go to the track and work on our stuff."
NASCAR also announced Tuesday that it is reducing engine horsepower through a tapered spacer from 850 to 725, and cutting the rear spoiler on Sprint Cup Series cars from 7.25 inches high to 6 inches. The loss of downforce stemming from a smaller spoiler should make the cars harder to drive by forcing drivers to back off the throttle more in the turns — a change that has Johnson’s full support, even if it means he has to work a bit harder behind the wheel.
"We don’t mind working — and creating comers and goers is really, I think, the mindset moving forward," Johnson said. "A lot of the drivers, if not all the drivers, feel that a softer tire would create that — and in order to get a softer tire, we need to slow the cars down and probably get some downforce out of them. … I think there’s a common voice amongst the drivers that we’d like to get the downforce out of the cars and make them hard to drive, and then end up with a softer tire on it.
"It’s not just a car change. I think it’s a two- or three-part change, and Goodyear’s a big part of, I think, the future and the type of racing that we’ll have."
As for Tuesday’s revelation that NASCAR will work with Goodyear to introduce rain tires for Sprint Cup road course events when the weather conditions warrant, Johnson embraces the decision to let NASCAR’s top series race in the wet.
"That’ll make it exciting," he said, noting that the Nationwide Series has used rain tires on road courses for several years. "It’s not necessarily the fact that we’ll race in the rain, but we’ll certainly race in the wet. It’s provided some very entertaining Nationwide races, and I can only imagine what it’ll be like in Cup."
So what does Johnson imagine running on a wet track will be like?
"In the Grand-AM racing I’ve done, the drying conditions, the wet conditions in general, I’ve always been very fast, so I’m excited to kind of get a slippery surface underneath us and see how it goes," he said.
Asked on Tuesday to assess the state of the sport as it relates to race attendance and overall fan interest, Johnson expressed optimism.
"From everything I’ve seen and have heard about ratings, things have all been trending in the right direction," he said. "I’m not sure where to put all the credit. Could it be the (Chase) format? Is the economy coming back? There’s a lot of debatable points. I know tracks are working hard to bring price points down, there’s ticket packages, there’s a lot of stuff to help. I’m not sure what it is, again, but just happy to see it. I thought our crowd in New Hampshire was very strong, and it seems like the crowd count’s been going the right way."
NASCAR, of course, is no stranger to sweeping change, having overhauled the Chase for the Sprint Cup format along with qualifying procedures for all three major touring series in the past year alone.
Does Johnson wish that perhaps the sanctioning body would find a basic set of rules and stick with it for a while?
"It’s kind of a debatable point," Johnson said. "I was in a great conversation with (Clint) Bowyer, which is really hard to imagine," Johnson said with a laugh, "but he brought up a good point — which, again, is hard to imagine — that every time there is change, there’s more competition. When the rules sit still for a long period of time, it kind of falls into a follow-the-leader type event, so with more change there’s going to be that race again to find out who can figure out the mousetrap first."
VIDEO: NASCAR Reveals 2015 Rules Changes