A big question entering the 2019 season was will Jimmie Johnson be able to rebound with a new crew chief, and after six races, we are still asking the same question.
Partnered with Kevin Meendering, the year started off hopeful with a win in The Clash and a top-10 in the Daytona 500; however the No. 48 team has since gone downhill yet again, with one top-15 in the following five races.
The most disappointing result came this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where his starting position of 11th was the closest to the top-10 he would be all race. Johnson finished 16th in Stage 1, and 23rd in Stage 2, seeming to fall further back as the STP 500 went on. He would eventually end the day two laps down in 24th.
The veteran did not menace words in a post-race tweet saying, “Yesterday was a rough one, there’s no way around it. It’s a new day and a day we are using to become stronger.”
The real kicker though?
Not only did he tie his worst finish of the year, but his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate, Chase Elliott, proved to be one of the best cars in the field, coming home in the runner-up position.
Now, to Johnson’s credit, the Hendrick cars have seemed behind this year. After all, Elliott’s second-place is the first top-five all season for the organization, which is concerning in its own right. However, this is a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, one of the best the sport has ever seen, continuing to struggle, and not due to any lack of effort either.
The team made efforts to do better this season, which included the separation of Johnson from his longtime crew chief, Chad Knaus, replacing him with Meendering. It was a move that could be argued needed to be done for both, and not the first time a legendary Hendrick driver has moved on despite success from a team member; see the career of Jeff Gordon.
Now, it’s still early in the season, and the duo of Johnson and Meendering are still probably developing a bond and there is the possibility that we are just seeing growing pains, and everything will be better eventually. However, the fact the 2019 No. 48 crew is still seeing the same struggles the 2018 team.
It would be easy to say that they have a chance of rebounding at the upcoming tracks on the schedule, but you could have said the same thing about Martinsville, where he had won nine times.
So, what now?
There was an old saying in NASCAR a few years ago and it went like this – never count out Jimmie Johnson.
You still shouldn’t, but at the same time, the current status of the No. 48 is alarming to say the least.
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