The performance from his No. 48 Chevy in Texas has Jimmie Johnson inspired.
“This is what we’ve been looking for,” said the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Johnson finished fifth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, which was not only his third top-10 finish of the season but also his first top-five since May of last year. But it wasn’t just a solid Sunday afternoon: Johnson’s Hendrick Racing Camaro was one of the strongest cars all weekend.
Not only was he the fastest in Friday practice, and fifth-fastest in Saturday’s final practice, but his No. 48 led the way in the 10-, 15- and 20-lap best consecutive averages in final practice.
He then won the pole, started hot, and led the race’s first 59 laps.
“For me, I was just trying to get a consistent weekend,” Johnson said. “It’s one thing to have one-lap pace … and we did that on Friday. Then Saturday went really well. So, in the back of my mind, I was thinking we just needed to have a rock-solid day, and if we did that, then I could confirm to myself and to everyone else that we are moving in the right direction.
“The No. 48, No. 24 [William Byron] and No. 9 [Chase Elliott] all were good. Not sure what happened with the No. 88 [Alex Bowman], but the majority of our cars ran really strong today, so I feel much better about things.”
Johnson, Byron, and Elliott started the race lined up first, second, and third. While Johnson led the way in the results, Byron was close behind in sixth, and Elliott was 13th after losing ground late after running well inside the top 10 much of the day.
Bowman had a commitment line violation and finished one lap down in 18th.
“We are definitely moving in the right direction,” said Johnson. “The car was good in clean air and had a lot of speed in it, so I think we have found kind of a ‘center’ for our cars and know what has to happen.
“It was a little evil in traffic,” Johnson went on, “and I had a heck of a time on green flag restarts. “But [the crew] really worked hard [and] we ended up having great pace and decent driveability, so we’re working in the right direction.
“I’m just so proud of everybody on this Ally team. We’ve had a lot of pressure on us, and everyone has stepped up and is getting it done.”
A week ago, concern reached a new high around Johnson and his team after they finished multiple laps down at Martinsville, where he’s won nine times. And Johnson had been no better at the high-speed tracks like Texas, finishing outside the top 15 in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Fontana.
Noting it’s “completely different” to have a fast car in clean air and then one in traffic, Johnson said his team has found a good direction, and Texas was a good learning point.
“Vegas went so bad, we just scrapped it all and started over,” he said. “Fontana was OK, but still not what we wanted. Now that not only the 48 is running well, but all the cars had speed in them, we have great information to go forward with.”