Johanna Long is bummed that her debut part-time Nationwide Series schedule ended so quickly and is already looking forward to getting behind the wheel in February.
Long garnered a lot of attention this past season, competing in the No. 70 Chevrolet for ML Motorsports. While she would prefer to avoid direct comparisons to fellow female driver Danica Patrick, Long’s Super Late Model background and southern charm has carved a niche for herself as the gritty alternative to the popular Go Daddy Girl.
In an exclusive phone interview with SB Nation, Long described her progression into NASCAR as a “work in progress.
“Last year was a learning experience,” Long said. “We ran good in many of our races and we finished strong… I was really bummed that the season was over so soon because I really felt like we had found something at the end. I’m just ready for the season to start so we can show everyone what we learned.”
The highlight of her season occurred at Richmond in September, when after qualifying eighth, Long methodically worked her way up to fourth by lap 30. She was forced to nudge Denny Hamlin off the bottom of the track to get around the Sprint Cup Series star for fifth and was praised for how she raced some of the veteran leaders that night.
While she ultimately cut a tire and finished 32nd, she hopes her performance added credibility and respect amongst her peers in the Nationwide Series garage.
“I do feel like they respect me,” Long said of her competitors. “You have to gain respect and show them that you belong. I’m out there to race and I want to stay – I think it’s important that you show that to them.”
Many of her strongest runs last season, including those at Richmond, Iowa and Daytona season were hampered by an inexperienced over-the-wall pit crew. Long is proud of her team’s effort and believes a second season together will provide added benefits.
“We’re working on everything as a team,” Long said. “I know the team is working incredibly hard on everything back at the shop including our pit stops. We take notes at the end of every race and again at the end of the season and we’re going to focus on improving at every level.”
Long signed a two-year deal with ML Motorsports prior to the 2012 season and hasn’t placed too much importance on joining a larger team. While she wants to be more competitive and continue to improve, she’s focused on impressing with ML Motorsports before entertaining the notions of free agency.
It’s easy to forget that she is just 20 years old. After all, she entered the Truck Series at age 18 and has quietly risen through the ranks ever since. She hasn’t set a timetable for her progression but definitely has her sights set on someday competing in the Sprint Cup Series.
“When I was younger, I had a timetable,” Long said. “Now I understand that you have to have the right people take a chance on you and provide the opportunity. It’s hard to set a timetable but I definitely want to work my way towards the Sprint Cup Series.”
Long and ML Motorsports have yet to finalize their 2013 plans but expect to run a similar schedule to last year barring an increase in funding. The team ran 22 of 33 races last season and finished 20th in the overall standings.