Jimmie Johnson Talks Dust to Gusts at NASCAR Kobalt 400

When you ask Jimmie Johnson if 2016 is the year he ties the greats of his sport with his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, you can sense he wants to say yes. But, there are two things stopping him — his modesty and the crazy, season-ending rush of the current Cup Series rules.

The team behind Kobalt Tools invited a small group of media to its titular 400.5 mile race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Since Kobalt Tools is the Lowe’s house brand, and Johnson runs the Lowe’s #48 Chevrolet, it was one big happy family when “Six Time” sat down for a group Q&A.

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Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports ride is a threat to win every week — and that makes him a threat for Cup number seven. His hot start this year would seem to set him up well for a title run — but Johnson thinks the new Chase format makes such a prediction difficult.

“In previous years, I would say we were off to a good start — that we have a feeling we’re headed in the right direction,” Johnson says. “But, the elimination format of the NASCAR Chase makes it impossible to say what will happen.”

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As for Las Vegas Motor Speedway and driving the Kobalt 400, Johnson compared the track for the big oval in Atlanta – with the added trickery of desert racing. It all comes down to a set of rhyming obstacles — dust and gusts.

“At Las Vegas, turns three and four are protected by the grandstand from the prevailing winds,” Johnson explains. “But, there are spots on the track where the winds can gust and make the car behave crazy.”

“And dust can affect the race early, so you might not want to be the leader early on a dusty track. Once the race is underway for a while, the speed cleans the track.”

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On this Sunday, Johnson overcame some of the most bizarre racing conditions in NASCAR history to run in the top 10 all day. The race was delayed by rain and 50 mile-an-hour winds. Eventually, yellow-flagged for desert sandstorm, but Johnson survived the circus to finish third behind winner Brad Keselowski.

Regardless, Johnson already qualified for the Sprint Cup Chase with a win at Atlanta last week. He’ll run the rest of the season with his eyes on the final set of races.

“We’ll be looking to maintain our intensity and work with more of a sense urgency throughout the season to stay focused on the championship.”