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Kligerman: Why the essence of Jimmie Johnson is ‘They won’t outwork me’

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CONCORD, N.C. – Recently, I had the opportunity to test a Monster Energy Cup car at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was the first time I’ve had the chance to wheel a car at the top level of NASCAR in just more than four years.

A lot has changed in that time but in my case, the most important was the car itself.

Setup styles, digital dashes, vastly lower downforce levels and lower horsepower.  It’s almost a different car.

This test was for the Coca-Cola 600. Thankfully, the person I leaned on for advice in my first taste of Cup racing at the end of 2013 is still there for advice.

Except he has two more championships to his name. (During the same time, I’ve been yapping into cameras and occasionally racing.)

That person is seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2013, I was lucky enough to be able to use Jimmie’s spotter, Earl Barban. So when my Cup debut was upon me, Earl gave me Jimmie’s number, and he was gracious enough to not only text me back but take time to talk to me as he fought for a championship.

To this day, it’s one of the highlights of my career. Per his advice, I earned the team its best qualifying position of the year and best finish on a 1.5-mile track.

Preparing for my first Cup start since April 2014, I wasn’t expecting to have the same chance to talk to Jimmie this time around. Mostly because I would be too shy to reach out.

Yet call it fate: It happened on the day of this manufacturer test for wheel force cars (which are outfitted with million-dollar telemetry equipment to validate and assess tires for their simulation programs).

“Jimmie is driving the wheel force car,” Drew Herring, Toyota’s simulation and wheel force driver, said to me. “Can you believe that?”

“I’m not surprised,” I replied.

Drew was shocked.

Wheel force testing is usually reserved for the drivers who draw the short straw or a talented young driver such as Drew who is happy to have the work.

It’s the closest that driving a race car will seem like a chore. It is monotonous, systematic and doesn’t require you to always go as fast as you can but instead hit certain parameters the engineers need to gather data.

But the job doesn’t end there. The wheel force driver is also required to turn laps in the manufacturer simulator, so the engineers can validate the data. It is a multi-day commitment to working on racecars as if they are a new line of code in an app.

After speaking to Drew, I walked by the Chevy pit area to get to my team’s pit area. Jimmie didn’t look too busy, so I seized the opportunity to strike up a conversation and get his advice on what I was struggling with in my Cup car.

I started by asking the simple question, “What are you doing here?”

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “They won’t outwork me.”

It was this answer as to why I am not surprised he was there.

Earlier, Drew also suggested to me that someone asked Johnson to do the test. But Jimmie’s answer all but confirmed he wanted to be there.

Jimmie and I talked about current Cup cars and how they drive. Just as in 2013, he was very gracious with his time and knowledge to help guide me in the right direction with my own driving (much of what I won’t go into as that is driver-to-driver talk).

As we talked, I’m sure he noticed that I couldn’t stop my eyes from being drawn to the Monster Energy Cup Series logo on his suit. A “Champion 7x” patch is stitched directly below.

That assures him a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In my eyes, he is the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. The sheer sight of that simple patch is intimidating, to say the least.

Yet the conversation I was having with the person behind the patch was as if we were two buds hanging out.

At one point, he thought the lap times they were doing were 29.3 seconds, and he then asked an engineer if he was right. “Nah, we are not that fast. More like 29.6s”

It didn’t matter. They weren’t there to set blistering lap times. It’s all about gathering data in an effort to stop the bleeding.

He is in the midst of the longest losing streak of his career – 35 races (if he comes up short in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the drought will be as long as a full Cup season). Last Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, the No. 48 team radio underscored the tension building as Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus hunt for performance.

His race team, Hendrick Motorsports, is struggling to build the speed into their new Chevy Camaros that he needs to win.

He went into the facets of what he is struggling with handling-wise and the ways he was trying to adjust his driving style to fix them.

And all the while going through these issues, his face appeared to light up, and a smile came across as he said, “This is fun!”

I joked that it would be boring to just be winning every week. He chuckled and said, “Not exactly!”

As our conversation continued, his eyes filled with the enthusiasm and vibrancy of a young kid getting his first shot by doing the grunt work. Not a seven-time champion who many keep asking how many years he has left.

After a couple minutes, it was time for us both to get back in our cars and do our jobs. In his case, it was working with the multitude of Chevy engineers to make sure the data they were gathering was useful to improve their chances in the battle against the pointy end of the Cup field.

And in my case, it was to lament that I didn’t take notes.

As I was working with a small team that has only a handful of starts, Jimmie’s advice was once again invaluable to me. When we take the green flag at the Coca-Cola 600, it will be my team’s seventh start – the same number as Jimmie has championships.

The thing is, often in my other job, I am asked what makes Jimmie Johnson so good. People want to know what makes one driver better than another.

Usually, I’ll name a couple of his attributes and his incredibly unassuming nature. But on this fateful day at Charlotte, I finally saw the answer.

What makes Jimmie tick is a challenge. He loves, relishes and searches for a challenge. And right in front of him is maybe the largest he has ever faced.

But I’m not betting against him.

As he said, “They won’t outwork me.”

Bristol Truck race results, driver points

Bristol Truck race results
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Sam Mayer scored his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday night. The 17-year-old finished ahead of GMS Racing teammate Brett Moffitt.

Mayer is the youngest driver to win a Truck race at Bristol.

Tanner Gray placed third and was followed by Parker Kligerman and Chandler Smith.

Gray’s finished tied a career high. Kligerman’s finish was his best this season.

Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line fifth but his truck was disqualified for failing post-race heights in inspection.

The next race in the playoffs is Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Click here for race results

POINTS

Brett Moffitt leads the points after the opening race in the first round of the playoffs. He leads Sheldon Creed by nine points. Zane Smith trails Moffitt by 12 points.

Click here for points report

17-year-old Sam Mayer wins first NASCAR Truck race

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Sam Mayer passed GMS Racing teammate Brett Moffitt with 30 laps to go and went on to score his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The victory came in the seventh career Truck start for the 17-year-old Mayer. The win also came a few days after JR Motorsports announced that Mayer would drive for the team in the second half of the 2021 Xfinity Series, once he turns 18.

“I love this place,” Mayer told FS1 after the 200-lap race. “I don’t know what to say.”

Mayer was helped by having tires that were 52 laps fresher than Moffitt’s tires.

MORE: Race results 

Mayer is not competing in the playoffs and does not advance to the second round. He said he has two more Truck races left to run this season.

Mayer followed his Truck win by taking the checkered flag in the ARCA Menards Series race that followed Thursday night.

Moffitt, who is competing in the playoffs, finished second. He was followed by Tanner Gray and Parker Kligerman.

Trevor Bayne finished fifth but his Truck was disqualified after the race for failing inspection. His truck failed post-race heights. Chandler Smith finished fifth after Bayne’s disqualification.

Moffitt was one of only four playoff drivers to finish in the top 10. Grant Enfinger was sixth. Tyler Ankrum placed seventh. Matt Crafton was 10th.

Mayer is the second youngest winner in series history. Cole Custer is the youngest winner in series history. Custer was 16 years, 7 months, 28 days when he won in Sept. 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Mayer becomes the youngest Truck winner at Bristol at 17 years, 2 months, 22 days. Ryan Blaney had held that record, winning a 2015 race there at age 21 years, 4 months, 19 days.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

STAGE 2 WINNER: Tyler Ankrum

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray’s third-place finish tied his career best. He finished third at Michigan earlier this season. … Parker Kligerman’s fourth-place finish is his best of the season while running a limited schedule.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Austin Hill finished 26th, worst among the playoff drivers. He had contact on Lap 2 with Stewart Friesen.

NOTABLE: Trevor Bayne said that four weeks ago he didn’t know if he would be racing again at Bristol. He crossed the finish line fifth but his truck failed inspection after the race and was disqualified.

NEXT: The second race of the opening round of the playoffs is at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Texas Motor Speedway to host polling site for election

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Residents and race fans in parts of North Texas will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming election at their local NASCAR track.

Texas Motor Speedway will be a polling site for the Nov. 3 election.

The track, owned by Speedway Motorsports, will serve as a polling site for the residents of Precinct 4048. That precinct includes a large portion of Denton County and Forth Worth, Texas.

The polling site will be in the Lone Star Tower Condominium Clubhouse just outside Turn 2. It will be open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET on election day.

More: Upcoming Cup playoffs races can fans attend

“In anticipation of a very high voter turnout for the presidential election, we have been working for months to acquire polling sites throughout the county,” Frank Phillips, Denton County Elections Administrator, said in a press release. “We are excited that Texas Motor Speedway has offered the use of the Lone Star Tower Clubhouse as a polling site.”

Local, state and CDC guidelines will be followed to ensure a sanitized, safe and socially distanced voter experience.

TMS is the first track that hosts NASCAR Cup races to announce its plans for use as a polling site. It joins sporting venues for other major sports in doing so.

A number of NBA arenas and practice facilities will be voting locations, as well as select NFL stadiums and NHL arenas.

Travis Pastrana, Conor Daly set for Las Vegas Truck Series race

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Action sports star Travis Pastrana and IndyCar driver Conor Daly are teaming up with Niece Motorsports to compete in the upcoming Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With the backing of iRacing, who made the announcement Thursday, the duo will drive the No. 42 and No. 45 Chevrolets in the Sept. 25 race.

Pastrana and Daly’s involvement is a continuation of their rivalry in the LCQ League, a private iRacing league featuring motorsports and action sports legends having fun in cars from all disciplines.

For Pastrana, a former Roush Fenway Racing driver, it will be his fifth career Truck start and his second of the year after he competed in the July 25 race at Kansas Speedway. He finished 22nd.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing our rivalry from the LCQ League to the real world,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’ve been getting lots of advice and iRacing on-track coaching from fellow LCQ member Parker Kligerman. I’m looking forward to seeing how the hours in iRacing pay off on the track, especially for Conor who has never driven a NASCAR truck in real life. He might be the first person in history to jump into a professional racing series and take the green flag without so much as a single practice lap in real life! Conor is a phenomenal IndyCar driver and a quick learner so I think he will surprise a lot of people.”

It will be the first Truck Series start for Daly, who has 61 IndyCar starts since 2013. Daly made his NASCAR debut in 2018 at Road America driving for Roush in the Xfinity Series.

“I could not be more excited to jump in a Gander Outdoor Series truck for the first time ever in Las Vegas!” Daly said in a press release “This will be one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced in my career as it will be the first event I’ve ever done where I’ve never driven a single lap in the Chevy Silverado before taking the green flag for the race. Travis and I have been going head to head on iRacing getting as much practice as possible since that’s the best possible form of preparation we have!