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Virtual Reality Helps Johnson, Hendrick Stay Ahead of Game in NASCAR

Jimmie Johnson has made 562 NASCAR Cup Series starts since his debut in 2001, winning 83 races and a record-tying seven season championships for Hendrick Motorsports.

With that deep well of experience, he probably could drive nearly every track on the schedule with his eyes closed. Yet even though he has completed more than 160,000 race laps in the Cup Series during his legendary career, Johnson still takes turns in the sophisticated simulator at Hendrick Motorsports to try to unlock more setup secrets for his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

“It’s really the starting point of it all,” Johnson said about simulator work. “With the limited test sessions and limited opportunities for data on the car, the simulator is really our only test bed.”

That extra seat time – even if it’s in the virtual world – is an important building block for Johnson as he aims for his record-breaking eighth Cup championship in 2017 and record-tying fifth victory in the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 on July 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hendrick test driver Alex Bowman does the heaviest lifting for Hendrick in the simulator, pounding out endless virtual laps in between the limited number of test sessions NASCAR allows teams.

That extensive simulator work paid off for Bowman and the team last season when Bowman filled in for injured Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 10 races.

He ran as high as eighth at New Hampshire in his first fill-in role for Earnhardt. Later in the year, Bowman won the pole in Phoenix in the No. 88 Chevrolet and ended up sixth in the race, his best performances in qualifying and a race of the year.

“When I look at how he stepped in seamlessly, it was really impressive,” Johnson said about Bowman. “We are counting on him so much with the simulator information that he does. The start of our data originates with him in the car. We put a lot on him from a wide variety of angles.

“If you look at his role, he has more input from that point than any driver at Hendrick, from the simulator time. Just by the numbers alone, he has more chance to capture real data than even I do right now. That’s our only data point we have to start from.”

Johnson still likes to climb into the simulator to try to translate setup tweaks from the virtual world to what he feels in the seat of his pants on track strapped into his Chevrolet, and vice-versa. Johnson admits there are very few eureka moments in the simulator, but the precise, highly technical equipment still is valuable in the long run.

“It’s a tool,” Johnson said. “There are takeaways. But you usually don’t find the takeaways until you’ve been in the simulator, go to the track and then go back in the simulator. There are things you feel on the car. It’s a process, for sure.”

The Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 will start at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 23, featuring all of the stars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Visit IMS.com to purchase tickets for all 2017 IMS events, including the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 and Lilly Diabetes 250 on July 21-23, and for more information on all events.

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Virtual Reality Helps Johnson, Hendrick Stay Ahead of Game in NASCAR
That extra seat time – even if it’s in the virtual world – is an important building block for Johnson as he aims for his record-breaking eighth Cup championship in 2017 and record-tying fifth victory in the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 on July 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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