Jimmie Johnson ended the 2016 season by winning the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in dramatic fashion and capturing his record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship.
The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team entered 2017 with high expectations as all eyes are on the defending champions to see if they can win a historic eighth title.
However, Johnson is off to the worst start of his career. A crash left him 34th in the DAYTONA 500; he placed 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas, ninth at Phoenix, and 21st at Auto Club Speedway last weekend. He currently sits 17th in the driver’s standings, behind two of his teammates, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne.
Johnson’s start to 2017 marks the longest span of races he has gone to begin a year without placing inside the top-five. His previous worst start came in 2009 when he didn’t score a top-five finish until the fifth race of the year at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Now heading into the sixth and seventh events of the year at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway respectively will be very telling in determining whether or not there’s cause for concern from the seven-time champion.
Martinsville may be the perfect place for Johnson to turn his season around. He is the winningest active driver at the track with nine victories including his most recent coming last October.
The win not only clinched the No. 48 team a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami for the first time, but Johnson tied Jeff Gordon with his ninth Martinsville victory.
Johnson has won consecutive races at Martinsville three times in his career. After visiting Victory Lane in October 2006, he then swept the 2007 events at the speedway.
When he won the October 2008 race, he went onto to score a victory in the following spring event. He again scored back-to-back wins in the October 2012 and April 2013 races.
Johnson knows how to succeed at Martinsville and always seems to perform well no matter what circumstances surround the race, which will make Sunday very telling as a strong run could go a long way.
While Martinsville may be one of Johnson’s best tracks, he has found unparalleled success in his career at Texas.
Johnson is the all-time wins leader at Texas with six victories. When compared to active full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, he has triple the number of wins among those closest to him.
The recent repave of the entire speedway and reconfiguration of Turns 1 and 2 will provide an added challenge during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, but Johnson’s experience and success will likely bode well for him.
When a team struggles early in the season, it isn’t always a sign of caution. However, continued misfortune may turn into a trend and lead to additional frustrations as the season continues.
Going to two tracks that Johnson excels at and that also feature two completely different layouts will be very revealing regarding the No. 48 team’s performance.
Running well over the next two weeks could mean even more than just providing the team with confidence to rebound from a rough start to the year. Both tracks will play a crucial role in the playoffs as they are Round of 8 race locations. Success now may mean an improved chance of returning to the championship race in seventh months.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz
EMAIL JASON AT firstname.lastname@example.org
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.