Wheeler Picks Jimmie Johnson to Win The Winston
Wheeler, known for his promotional flair and Karnac-type ability, has correctly picked the winner of NASCAR¿s all-star event eight times in the past 14 years.
¿I¿m going to ruffle some feathers on this,¿ said Wheeler. ¿These picks are not pulled out of some black hat. During the recent test session, I watched guys run into the corners and studied where they got back on the throttle. Most any idiot can run down a straightaway!
¿But this is a real tough track and past winners of The Winston know how to get into the turns with a bunch of guys breathin¿ hot radiators down their back,¿ Wheeler explained. ¿There are guys that can get in and out of the turns fast by themselves and are good qualifiers but don¿t do so hot when the big-toothed dogs are bitin¿ at ¿em.¿
Johnson and his Lowe¿s Home Improvement Warehouse team had an impressive test at the 1.5-mile superspeedway two weeks ago, posting the second-fastest speed during the two-night session. In addition, the young California native was impressive in last May¿s events, including The Winston.
¿I know he has a good track record for picking the winner, so hopefully it will bring Team Lowe's a little luck this weekend,¿ said Johnson. ¿Last year we had great success in the first two segments of The Winston. But with the fans electing to invert the field for the final run, we just ran out of laps before we could get back up to the front. Building off last year, coupled with our good test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, we are looking forward to big things over the next two weeks."
¿You have to be real hungry to win The Winston,¿ added Wheeler. ¿Look at Earnhardt in ¿87 when he went into the grass to keep Bill Elliott from winning and Michael Waltrip hurling himself through what should have been a big pileup to win in ¿96.
¿And last year Ryan Newman¿s win was the most underrated ever. How many guys would have kept from wrecking after Dale Jr. tried the bump and run?
¿All of that is why I¿m picking Jimmie Johnson to win this year,¿ Wheeler said. ¿He runs very strong here and was one of the fastest in testing. I liked the way he dug into the turns. He looked like Jeff Gordon¿running deep and keeping it smooth.¿
Wheeler added, ¿He¿s also very hungry. I know he¿s not happy this year, being shut out of victory lane after a great rookie year, even though he has 11 straight top 10 finishes. This guy is a racer, but he¿s also focused on the points and the big picture. With no points in The Winston, he can go or blow. Last year he won the first two segments and then learned in the final shootout you have to mad dog it to win.¿
Wheeler also likes the young combination of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.
¿Chad Knaus has done a great job as crew chief,¿ Wheeler said. ¿Chad is young and aggressive and he¿s tired of just finishing. He wants a win and what better place than in the backyard!¿
Though not really a dark horse, Wheeler said Earnhardt Jr. is his ¿Wildcard¿ pick if Johnson doesn¿t get the job done.
¿He ran strong in testing and did learn a lesson last year against Newman,¿ Wheeler said. ¿He¿ll never admit it, but he knows he should have won. That¿s ok. He is still amazing with his raw talent and track intelligence. This race brings the best out of him.¿
For The Winston Open, the final transfer spot into The Winston, Wheeler predicts veteran Jeff Burton will win and move into the big show.
The Winston activities kick off Friday night with qualifying for The Winston and The Winston Open. In addition to qualifying, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series makes its debut with the inaugural Hardee¿s 200. Tickets start at $20.
Good seats, in various price ranges, are still available for The Winston this Saturday. Tickets start at $21 and may be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.