Jimmie Johnson was scratching his head after a disappointing day at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Probably more than anyone else is,” a deflated Johnson said on pit road. “The corner entry at Kansas and here has just been really bad. I’ve had to let off [the throttle] really soon, so people don’t get to my bumper and make my condition even worse.”
The defending series champion was never a factor Sunday afternoon and the No. 48 team spent most of the day trying to dig out of a hole. Pitting on lap 68 for a vibration due to a loose wheel, Johnson immediately fell two laps off the pace and never recovered.
Fighting a loose Chevrolet, Johnson admitted he was focused on not spinning out, something he did twice two weeks ago at Kansas.
“I wasn’t going to push my luck here,” he said.
But his team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, kept making mistakes as well. The strategy calls never worked out in his favor and early in the going the decision was made to pit instead of try for the wave around. Admittedly, Johnson didn’t know what the master plan was and said it’s easy to look back on how things turned out and what could have been done.
Making things look even worse, at one point the defending series champion was quickly disposed of by leader Kyle Larson, putting him three laps down. In the end, a 27th-place finish – after winning at Texas in the spring – sealed Johnson’s fate as the worst-performing playoff driver.
Sunday was Johnson’s fourth straight finish outside the top 10. A nine-time winner at Martinsville, Johnson also didn’t have much fight in him when he picked up a 12th-place result last weekend. Plus there was the already mentioned day at Kansas.
Disappointed after 500 miles in Texas and with how things have gone in recent weeks, Johnson said he feels bad for his team as the hard work isn’t translating to results.
“We had a really loose car, especially on entry, we just couldn’t get out of it,” he said. “The first pit stop, we had a loose wheel, and that got us down further and then on a restart I ran into the back of somebody in the restart zone. It was just a bad day that just kept getting worse.”
Consequently, Johnson goes into Phoenix as the last driver on the playoff grid. With a deficit of 51 points, Johnson will most likely need to win if he’s to defend his championship in the season finale.
Johnson has a 9.0 average finish at Phoenix in 28 starts with four victories.
“It’s been a good track for us, but this last half of the year has been really weird,” Johnson admitted. “In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven’t. But I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix, and we’ll go there and fight as hard as we can.
“And that’s one thing this team will never do, is give up.”