Jimmie Johnson has seemingly heard it all in the first five weeks of the season.
There have been whispers that at 42 years old, success is behind him. Some continue to ask when he’s going to retire, especially now that Lowe’s is leaving at season’s end. Others believe the new Chevrolet Camaro body is not going to be competitive enough.
And the most recent comment?
It’s that Johnson is experiencing the worst slump of his career. Well, sure – if “slump” now means a measly 29 races without a trip to victory lane.
“I kind of chuckle,” Johnson said. “Only 29 races, you know? I won three last year. I don’t think that way.”
Yes, Johnson did win three races in 2017 and qualified for the playoffs. But his last victory came in June at Dover. And his postseason run was nothing to write home about as the No. 48 team struggled to find its footing and earned just three top-10 finishes before being eliminated at Phoenix.
Johnson looks back and acknowledges the “high frustration” and “embarrassment” of not being able to move in the right direction. This year though, Johnson sees improvement and said he’s optimistic success is around the corner.
Johnson also understands where Hendrick Motorsports is as a company. Internally, moves have been made to have key personnel, such as all four crew chiefs, work closer together.
“There’s a journey of growth going on right now at the company,” said Johnson. “Sure, I’m reminded every week of a streak that’s not one that you want to be reminded of, but I’m not losing sleep over it. I know I’m going to win races. I know this team is going to win races. I know we’re going to compete for championships. It’s just getting all of our stuff right.”
With seven championships and 83 wins in 16 seasons, many, including Johnson, have high expectations. However, Johnson believes people take for granted how competitive NASCAR is, like any pro sport, and nothing lasts forever.
“What we did to win five [titles] in a row was pretty darn special,” Johnson said. “Nobody has ever done that before. Cale [Yarborough] won three in a row, and that would be the next closest one. I do hold myself to a very high level of expectation, but I think that in society today it’s real easy – there are some unfair expectations put on people and on teams and on individuals, and I think people often forget how difficult it is to compete at a pro level.”
Which is why the words “29 races,” “slump” and “washed up” will keep Johnson’s chuckles coming.