By Kelly Crandall (LOUDON, N.H.) – No one looks past six-time and defending champion @JimmieJohnson when it comes to the post-season.
He’s still on the radar when it comes to this year’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup as he tries to earn record-tying title number seven. Except, entering New Hampshire Motor Speedway Johnson sits eighth in points following a 12th place finish last weekend in the Chicagoland opener. Much of the talk, so it seems, has been on Johnson’s teammates, @JeffGordonWeb and @DaleJr., or point leader Brad @Keselowski and even @KevinHarvick.
“Honestly, we’re just plugging along,” Johnson said Friday morning. “We’re running well. We’re hopeful to heat up and find some more speed and be more of a dominant car, especially as the Chase wears on.
“But we’re holding our own right now and I’m looking forward to this track, and certainly next weekend (Dover); my favorite racetrack and probably my best track on the circuit. So, we’re just plugging along.”
The newly turned 39-year-old isn’t shy on admitting they’ve been in this position before. Summer slumps leave many wondering what is wrong with the No. 48 team before the Chase begins. This time around, during the seven-week stretch between Kentucky and Michigan, Johnson had just two top-10 finishes and four outside the top-25, which included three crashes.
None of which necessarily classifies Johnson’s season as being different than any before, but he does acknowledge his team is not where they want to be. Three wins in four weeks (May 25 – June 15) put him into the Chase, though he finished the regular season sixth in points.
“I wish I could explain why teams are good and bad and why it’s so hard to be consistent all year long. But, last year, even though we had a tough end of the regular season, we were in position to win a lot of races,” he said.
“And we did win a bunch during the course of the year. We’ve had one hot spot in the middle of the year this year and we’ve kind of been lukewarm on the other sides. I’m hoping we heat up. I’m hoping we get to that hot spot again.”
Gordon led the standings for the majority of the season and now sits second. Harvick has the most poles and Keselowski the most wins. Johnson, however, sits third behind Keselowski and Harvick in laps led (1,035).
“You look at the No. 4 (Harvick) and look at the No. 2 (Keselowski) and you look at the No. 24 (Gordon) consistently over the year, those guys have been there. It’s the new rules package. Believe me, we’re working our guts out to find the speed and to be that dominant car,” Johnson said.
“But truthfully, we’re not the dominant car right now. We’re a good car. We still have nine weeks to get our act together; especially the way this Chase lays out, if we continue to get the most out of our good car and have a great car at Homestead, if we’re in that position, then we can get seven. But this is a tough industry.
Last season Johnson was fourth at New Hampshire. Of the next nine Chase races, he’s won at each except for the season finale of Homestead.
“We’re working as hard as we can and I’m happy to see my teammates with speed. And then there’s a couple of guys out there that aren’t in our camp that we’re chasing and just trying to out race them,” he said.
“But they’re amazing race teams and drivers, as well.”
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