Jimmie Johnson passes on qualifying, to start at back for Sunday

Photo by Harold Hinson Photography

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

FONTANA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson passed on his chance at qualifying and will start in the back for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday.

The decision came after the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet spun in the first practice on Friday. He went to a backup car after the incident and would have still been able to start wherever he qualified since the change was made before time trials. But Johnson said the team would have been pressed for time in preparing the replacement car properly.

“In order to get the car right for the tolerances and inspection, there was just no way,” he said. “We have a tough practice session and midpack was probably gonna be our goal anyway so to take our lumps here at a track that’s really wide with a lot of lanes, a long race.

“We’ll just take our lumps and get the car right, make sure we take advantage of the precious minutes that we have in Saturday’s practice session and go from there.”

Johnson said he “just lost it and that the turn into Turn 3 landed, the car was pretty loose there in general.” And although the damage didn’t look like much, the seven-time champ said it felt not participating in time trials was the right thing to do.

“We’re definitely not in a position we want to be in,” he said.  “So we would rather take the time now and make everything right, get this car right and also kinda control our risk factor. If I was to tear the car up again in qualifying, we would be heading next door to the No. 88 truck [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] to pull out their backup car, put a wrap on it and change seat and interior and just a lot of other things.”

Johnson, a California native who earned his first Cup win at the two-mile track in 2002, will start 37th in the 39-car field on Sunday. Kyle Larson, also from the Golden State, is on the pole.

“Pit road is gonna be a problem,” he pointed out. “We are not gonna have a great pick there. We’re definitely not in a position we want to be in.”

Johnson is the defending race winner at Auto Club Speedway and also holds the record with six victories at the track. He most recently started at the rear at Homestead in November en route to his record-tying seventh championship.

“I think my record shows that I can make up plenty of spots and pass plenty of cars and we’ll just make it exciting coming from the back,” he said.



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