As the NASCAR community gathered at Daytona to begin the 2017 season, there was a lot of confidence in Jimmie Johnson‘s chances to surpass Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and become the first-ever eight-time Cup Champion.
A lot has changed in a few weeks, though, following a handful of on-track appearances by the No. 48 team.
Johnson’s season began with what can be termed a disastrous Speedweeks with wrecks in the Can-Am Duels (which relegated him to a 24th-place starting position in the Daytona 500), the Clash at Daytona and the main event, the Daytona 500 itself. While Johnson was looking for another Daytona 500 win, he finished 34th.
There’s a saying in NASCAR: the real season starts after Daytona.
The theory doesn’t help Johnson’s quest for an eighth championship, though. After qualifying mid-pack in 18th, his day ended one spot worse than where he started, in 19th. Unlike his results at Daytona, his finish at Atlanta can’t be explained away by saying he was in the wrong place at the wrong time or had equipment issues. Speeding on pit road twice, along with pitting after taking a wave-around, provided an insurmountable road block to Johnson’s chances of rebounding from Daytona.
Again, the 2017 season is still in its infancy, and Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports team might take solace in the fact they have a long season ahead of them. The truth is: a long season can go by quickly and can even leave defending series champions on the outside looking in.
But no need to hit the panic button, yet, for a driver who has won multiple championships in multiple Chase formats. The great unknown is this new format.
Johnson has found himself in trouble before, especially with his typical summer swoon. Usually, it comes with Johnson having at least one win to put him into the Chase. In past years, a win all but ensured drivers could endure a slump and still be in good position for a run for the Championship.
This new point system changes everything. While a win would still get Johnson into NASCAR’s playoffs, a collection of sub-par finishes could position him behind other drivers and create a deficit he might not make up over just three races in the first round.
Perhaps all this speculation is for naught. Johnson may have just been caught up in the hype of his seventh championship win, and the bad results will force him to get his head in the game, so to speak. Maybe he is getting all his bad luck out of the way and by the end of NASCAR’s “West Coast Swing,” Johnson will be back dominating and headed towards Championship Number Eight.
Or perhaps Johnson’s eighth championship will be put on hold until 2018.
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.