Each race in the Round of 8 has been a must-win for Jimmie Johnson.
Friday at Phoenix Raceway, Johnson admitted as much. But he faces that for certain Sunday afternoon as the defending series champion needs to win the Can-Am 500 if he is going to compete for his record-breaking eighth championship next weekend.
Johnson comes into the final elimination race as the last driver on the playoff leaderboard, 51 points out of a transfer spot.
“I look at the Martinsville track and I look Texas and then I didn’t want to be in a position here to need points because if you’re here needing points, you’ve got to win,” Johnson said Friday morning. “So, I feel like this Round of 8 has been must-win for us all along. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to step up and win at Martinsville or at Texas, so now it continues.
“We’re here and we must win.”
Finishes of 12th and 27th at Martinsville and Texas put him in a hole, a position that seemed unlikely to most seeing as both of those tracks are very good for Johnson. But those performances are part of a larger problem for the No. 48 team this postseason as Johnson says everything regarding the car and setups has been tried at this point.
Johnson spun twice in Kansas, surviving with an 11th-place finish to advance out of the Round of 12. The team was parked at Talladega for working on the car under red. In eight playoff races, Johnson’s average finish is 13.2. And the only race in which he seriously contended for a victory was at Dover, when Johnson started 17th and drove to third.
“At the end of the day chasing speed is really the culprit,” Johnson said. “And I feel that next year we’ll be in a much better position with the Camaro body on the racecar. So, you start making decisions late spring and early summer, trying to extract speed out of the cars.
“And that doesn’t always make them comfortable to drive. So, it’s hard to say it’s just one thing, but the start of the process is just trying to make our cars faster. And at times we’ve not made the best decisions and have made them very hard to drive. I think Texas was an example of that and also Kansas. We spun twice there. So, it’s just trying to make the cars faster.”
Should Johnson win Sunday, it would be his fifth win at Phoenix, but first since back in 2009. Earlier this year, Johnson finished ninth at Phoenix.
“We wish we were in a better points scenario, but that’s not the case,” Johnson said. “This team thrives on pressure and adversity and we’re certainly in the position right now.”