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Jimmie Johnson: Fast on the track, faster in the air

Nate Ryan harkens back to the first NASCAR race that was broadcast in full, and a snowstorm that created a captive audience for Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough's Daytona fight.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Friday was a very fast day for Jimmie Johnson.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion turned in a relatively surprising performance in Daytona 500 practice, leading the Friday afternoon session with a speed of 194.225 miles per hour in his return to stock car racing after two years in the IndyCar Series.

But wait ... there’s more. And the more was faster. Much faster.


Jimmie Johnson rode with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds on Friday. (Photo by James Armas/Legacy Motor Club)

Also on Friday, Johnson hitched a ride with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the high-flying fighter-jet squadron that performs at air shows and other events and will do a flyover prior to the start of the 500 Sunday. Johnson became the latest Cup driver to make a high-speed run in one of the team’s planes.

“I’ve never felt anything like that,” Johnson said. “The adrenaline, the acceleration. The first thing we did off the runway was a ‘performance’ turn up to 10,000 feet. Instantly, I had to practice the heavy-G breathing they talk to you about. It’s just wild -- the weight of your body and pointing that thing in the sky and pulling it over and turning.

“I was really worried about getting sick. I’m happy to report my get-sick bag was empty. I didn’t get sick during the ride, so that was super-good. But I did take a little nap. We pulled 9.1 G, and I blacked out. I came to sitting in the back wondering where I was. I couldn’t hear anything. I’m looking around (and thinking), ‘What am I doing here?’ Then I could hear somebody going ‘Jimmie, Jimmie, Jimmie.’ He said, ‘You’re back. You took a nap.’ ”