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Jimmie Credits Jeff For Blooming In The Desert

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 18 2009
Jimmie Johnson credits teammate Jeff Gordon for making a back-to-back-to-back winner in Phoenix. (RacinToday photo by David Vaughn)  

Jimmie Johnson credits teammate Jeff Gordon for making him a back-to-back-to-back winner in Phoenix. (RacinToday photo by David Vaughn)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Correspondent

 Avondale, Ariz. – As Jimmie Johnson prepares to make his bid to establish more history in the desert this weekend, the El Cajon, Calif. driver admitted on Friday that his recent success at Phoenix International Raceway is due in large part to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.

Johnson will be looking for a record-setting fourth consecutive victory at the one-mile oval when the green flag waves over the 43 car field in Saturday night’s Subway Fresh Fit 500.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion’s ability to adapt to Gordon’s philosophy of getting around the flat oval has reaped handsome rewards for the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet.

“I really had to adjust my driving style to drive more like Jeff Gordon here,” said Johnson, who has never finished outside of the top 15 in 11 starts at Phoenix.

“It’s something that took me a few years to understand. I learned how to adapt to it at Richmond, at Martinsville and here at Phoenix. It’s worked out well for me.”

Johnson says he’s simply gone into attack mode over the past few years during NASCAR’s two annual visits to Arizona.

“It’s just a different style of driving the car,” he said. “I’m typically much smoother with the gas and the brake, and overlap the two feet and spend a lot of time in parked throttle.

“Where Jeff, here, is typically more physical with the car with hard braking and pulls on the steering wheel on the car. And through that, it requires a little bit of a tighter setup than what I do in most cases.

“My smoother style just doesn’t work on tracks like this. So I’ve just had to be more aggressive with the inputs to the car to make the car turn and force it to start rotating through the center of the corner.”

Johnson took control of last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup by setting on the pole, leading 217 laps and winning at Phoenix in the next-to-last race of the season.

Believing the competition has improved, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus aren’t sitting idle. They chose to debut a new chassis this weekend.

“It’s just hoping that it’s faster and better,” said Johnson, who has never finished off the lead lap at Phoenix. “Without testing, this is a good opportunity for us to work on our short track program and mile program.

 “Even if it doesn’t work, we can go to the shop, dig in deeper, then show up at Richmond a generation ahead of where we are now and get a step closer to a better package.”

Following a subpar start to the season, Johnson has been hitting his stride recently with a third, a victory and a second in his past three starts.

And heading into one of his momentum tracks on Saturday, the pieces appear to be falling into place for Johnson to go on one of his patented tears.

 “This has been a good track to us and I hope to keep it going,” he said. “We’ve done a decent job over the years of hanging on to certain tracks that we run well at. A win is top of the mind, but another good points day would be great.

“We need more time working with the new members on our team for pit stops. We just have to get that rhythm. We’ve had it for the last three weeks, but I just can’t wait until we’re executing on every aspect through the whole race.

 “And I think that’s right around the corner for us.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 18 2009
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