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Jimmie Johnson remembers early Brickyard struggles

Jul 25, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT

Geico 400 - Practice Getty Images

It seems hard to fathom now, but Jimmie Johnson wasn’t always a threat to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before claiming his first of four Brickyard 400 wins in 2006, Johnson earned just one Top-10 in his first four Sprint Cup races there.

“There are certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team, and for me, this was one of the toughest ones that I came to,” Johnson recalled this morning at IMS before today’s sole Cup practice on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It took me a long time to get it, and the light finally turned on in my head – maybe it was, ’04, ’05. Mid-race, I’m like, ‘Man, I haven’t driven this track long since practice opened.’ I set my car up wrong and led my team in the wrong direction, and then in the race, it really dawned on me.”

But now, the six-time Cup champion is an almost regular challenger for victory whenever NASCAR’s top series visits the world’s greatest race course.

In order to reach that point, Johnson said he had to go against what he calls his “natural tendencies” as a driver. And as he said today, he still has to remind himself to do that every time he races Indy.

“I had to make a conscious effort to drive differently and I’ve been playing that movie in my head coming here and getting ready for this weekend’s race,” he said. “There are tracks where your natural driving tendencies suit you, and [Indy] just isn’t one of them for me.

“I’ve got to really change my game coming here and I’ve been able to identify [what I need to do]. I think that’s half the battle, just to understand that – don’t do what you think you need to do, try to think in an opposite manner to find speed.”

Johnson may have to go about things differently at Indy, but it’s definitely been working for him. He has finished first or second in four of the last six Brickyards.

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