2018 has 'been tough on me' - but Johnson's commitment doesn't waver

Image by LaBounty/LAT

2018 has 'been tough on me' - but Johnson's commitment doesn't waver


2018 has 'been tough on me' - but Johnson's commitment doesn't waver


Jimmie Johnson is trying not to be quiet anymore.

Asked what he’s learned about his leadership of the No. 48 team during this rough stretch, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion admitted to finding a fault within himself. The trait started to appear last year, probably around the time things began to take a turn for the worse with his Hendrick Motorsports group.

Johnson shuts down.

“That’s something I worked really hard through this offseason to stop doing,” Johnson said at Pocono Raceway. “To be more vocal, to be out in front of these guys. I guess it comes from a place of just being disappointed in my own right that I’m not able to produce the results for them, and I just get quiet. And that’s the worst thing I can do.

“I learned that about myself through the end of last year, made a lot of adjustments through the offseason and feel that I’ve done a much better job this year.”

Winless now for 43 races dating back to June 2017, Johnson’s new approach is being tested plenty this year.

The Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is the 21st race of the season, and one of the more pivotal ones for Johnson and company. Johnson said the team has brought “some more new stuff” to Pocono that they are eager to see on the track and evaluate if the hard work being the scenes, such as wind simulation, tunnel testing, chassis development and more, is paying off.

Image by Thacker/LAT

With an average finish of 15.2 this year, Johnson has three DNFs, just two top-five finishes, and seven top-10 finishes.

“It’s been way more challenging than we anticipated, and it took us a while to get into this position,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take us a while to get out of it.”

Mentally, Johnson has also been feeling the effect. During the bad days, Johnson tries to go through a checklist of the positive things, like the success that comes with getting to drive a racecar for a living after starting off viewing this as a hobby.

“I think I personally have gone through moments of [being] confident in myself, not confident in myself; it’s this, it’s that. I’m human. It’s impossible to not be hard on myself, and then other times I can relax if it’s a good race or the team’s like, ‘oh man, we shouldn’t have done this,’ that’s why we had a bad weekend. Then that gives me some relief in beating up myself.

“But any athlete, it doesn’t matter the sport that you’re in when you have a dry spell and this type of scenario for a long stretch of time, it’s tough on you, and it’s been tough on me.”

On the plus side, Johnson has also said he’s more focused and committed to his job today than he was years ago, and certainly when he first entered the series in 2002. From starting off with general driver notes, Johnson and his colleagues in the sport now have many more resources at their fingertips to help them succeed.

“To have the intense debriefs that we do now, a few of them through the course of a week, the prep sessions that we have, the video, the extensive notes to review and look at, watching film, it goes on and on and on,” Johnson said. “Just sheer volume standpoint alone is way different from when I first started. Then I just think myself and trying to do more, be a better teammate, be more involved; it leads to physically more time in front of my guys.

“There is some element, I feel, a driver can play from a coaching standing and a moral standpoint and being involved and engaged and keeping people motivated. I’ve spent a lot more time in that space this year. What started off as a weekend thing in my 2002 rookie season, there’s really three days of work that takes place on top of what you do here at the racetrack.”