Jimmie Johnson and his team wouldn’t have minded if the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series were in action last weekend. Considering that the previous race at Bristol didn’t go the way they’d hoped with a 19th place finish, Johnson has mixed feelings about off weekends because he believes the only way to rebound from a poor performance is to get back on track with a good one.
But the time at home still might have done the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team some good. Cliff Daniels put another week under his belt as Johnson’s crew chief. Downtime from competition also gave Daniels more time to become intimately familiar with Johnson’s cars and equipment.
“I think this weekend it’s shown off the truck that our cars have more details put into them on the 48 car,” Johnson said. “Our guys had enough time to get the Indy stuff really dialed in, and I walked in the transporter [Friday] and they were getting back some reports with the status of our Indy car and what its downforce potential is and capability, and the guys are just buzzing over that.”
Johnson qualified sixth for the Bojangles Southern 500. In the first of two practices at Darlington on Friday, Johnson was fifth fastest. Such speed has Johnson optimistic about making something happen Sunday night when it comes to the playoffs.
Johnson needs to make up as much ground as possible, and there is no time to waste. Bristol set the seven-time champion and his team further back in points, now 26 from the cut-line.
“Honestly, the last three or four weeks we’ve been really fast it’s just getting through a race cleanly,” said Johnson, who has finished 19th, 34th, 19th, 15th, 30th and 30th in the races since Daytona.
“We need to have a lot of things go right to win. I think we’re closing the gap to the front runners, but we’re definitely doing it. I feel like we’ve had many top-fives slip away here in the last six to eight weeks, which is unfortunate. Just got to clean that up and a lot of that falls on me from just making mistakes and trying too hard on the track.”
Johnson’s fate will be decided one way or another in the next two races. By the checkered flag on Sept. 8, Johnson will either remain the only driver to qualify for the playoffs every year since its debut or have missed it for the first time in his career. Either way, Johnson isn’t necessarily ready for these two weeks to be over with and no longer facing questions about.
“No, it’s a story. I get it,” he said. “Believe me, I want to keep my playoff streak alive and then I want to be a factor in the playoffs. I want to know what the outcome is, but it’s not that I want to hurry up and get through it and have it away. I want to race. I want to get out there and earn another victory and earn my way into these playoffs. That’s what we’re all here for.
“My optimism, again, just comes from I know where this team is right now and I know where it’s going. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more time left, but we’re going to finish up the year strong, and that brings me a lot of excitement regardless of who the playoffs unfold.”