TALLADEGA, Ala. — Last year Jimmie Johnson had a plan that ended with a victory.
In this year's spring race at Talladega Superspeedway, rule changes have forced Johnson to toss the plan.
He still hopes for a win in today's Sprint Cup Aaron's 499. It just might be a little less predictable.
Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent almost the entire spring race last year together in a two-car draft, which at the time was the fastest way to get around the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
NASCAR rule changes in February eliminated much of the tandem racing in the Daytona 500 and brought back more of a large pack to restrictor-plate races. Given the change, Johnson said there is no plan in place this season to work with any particular teammate.
"We had made an agreement in our situation that, especially when the pushing was around, that we will do anything to help each other out," Johnson said.
"Now the racing has changed; we are in the packs now. I don't know if I will be around (Earnhardt), but if he is in front of me, absolutely I'm pushing him. The race unfolded in a certain way last time partly because my car was faster leading than his was."
Johnson's bigger concern in practice was how higher temperatures might affect engines during the 500-mile race.
Part of the rule changes by NASCAR made it more difficult for teams to remain close together for extended periods. Temperatures today likely will surpass 90 degrees, so higher engine temperatures mean two-car tandems will be sporadic.
There is some speculation that even the amount of time spent within a pack could be reduced if engine temperatures spike with the close racing.
"With the elevated temperatures here, those packs could be smaller," Johnson said. "I do know that NASCAR will have a close eye on things."
GORDON ON POLE: Jeff Gordon grabbed the top starting spot for today's race with a lap at 191.623 mph in his Hendrick Chevrolet. It was Gordon's first pole since this race last year and 71st of his career, third on the all-time list. "The biggest positive is just the fact we've had a rough start to the season, not a lot has gone our way other than we've had fast cars but not a lot of results to show for it," said Gordon, 17th in points.
SEAU TRIBUTE: Michael Waltrip, who races today in the No. 55 Toyota he owns, will carry a tribute to the late Junior Seau. Waltrip was a fan of Seau, the former NFL linebacker who committed suicide last week at age 43. Seau also wore No. 55 over his 20 seasons, and Waltrip's car will carry a small sticker in his honor.