By Kelly Crandall – A season that was holding much promise for Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team has been slipping away the last four weeks.
No, Johnson hasn’t lost his chance at competing for the 2013 Sprint Cup Series championship but he might have lost his edge. Saturday night in Richmond capped four weeks of trouble for the Lowe’s team when they finished 40th after slowness, a faulty battery and then a flat tire made for a long night.
“Unfortunately tonight here at the track things did not go well. We would literally wear the right front tire off the car as the night would go on,” said Johnson. “But I look at the string of bad races we’ve had here over the last four weeks, the majority of the tracks that resemble the Chase, we’ve been fast. We had a blown engine and tire failure at Pocono. Bristol, here, tracks we don’t see in the Chase, we’ve had our issues.
“I’m glad Richmond and Bristol aren’t in the Chase. I feel the 10 tracks that are in the Chase are very good for the 48 team. We’ll start over on a clean sheet of paper next weekend and go at it.”
Because of the birth of he and wife Chandra’s second daughter, Lydia Norriss Johnson, on Friday morning, Johnson did not practice or qualify his Lowe’s Chevrolet. Starting the race last he made his way into the top 25 before stalling out and beginning to feel something was wrong with the car.
At one point Johnson was told he needed to pick up his speed, but seemed confused as to how he was going to make the car respond. He was lapped, got caught speeding on pit road and soon found himself with the hood up and then in the garage because of a battery problem. He re-entered the race only to blow a right front tire and hammer the wall with 58 laps to go.
After seeding Johnson is second in points as the Chase gets ready to begin next weekend in Chicago. But all momentum he had just weeks ago and talk about being the title favorite are gone. For the first time in his career Johnson finished 25th or worse over four straight weeks.
Johnson locked himself into the Chase early thanks in part to a 77-point lead, the largest in Chase format history. Soon after the troubles started with poor finishes stacking up and his point lead dwindling. Before reseeding on Saturday night, he would have been second in points to Carl Edwards.
“There’s always a little concern. Without a doubt you want to enter the Chase with momentum,” he said about the last few weeks, which he had engine trouble, two crashes and then a bundle of problems on Saturday night.
“I think every team falls back on past history. We have won championships without momentum going into the first race. So we’re going to fall on our experience and also the experience of knowing the Chase is so different than anything else. You’re only racing 12 guys, not 43. So things change a lot.
“We’re going to go to a track that is very good for us. We had a tire test there earlier in the year. It went really well. I’m going to reserve any major concern or overwhelming confidence until after Chicago. I’m going to go in there with confidence I can go out and win because I know that I can. We’re going to enter nice and smooth and see how Chicago goes.”
EMAIL KELLY AT email@example.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall