Jimmie Johnson knows the numbers better than anyone else, and there are a lot of them where the seven-time champion is concerned.
Johnson has three races left to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series postseason. He is the first driver on the outside looking in, 25 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron.
There are 13 races left in the season, which is Johnson’s final full year of Cup competition. And that means there are 13 chances left for Johnson to snap a three-year winless streak dating back to Dover, site of this weekend’s doubleheader, in June 2017 — a drought of 117 races.
Johnson also doesn’t need a reminder that the end of the season is fast approaching, and time is running out to win one more race, break the winless drought and get his Hendrick Chevrolet back to victory lane.
Friday, Johnson said his emotion around trying to knock down one more win depends on the day. It also depends on what is happening on the track.
“I never wanted to have a winless drought or have a winless season, but I’ve worked through so many of those emotions over the last couple of years and also understand there are factors that I can’t control that have affected my performance,” he said. “We haven’t had the performance we’ve wanted as the 48 car, and for our company; so again, it depends on the day.
“When you run really well it increases that desire to win and to run up front last week (at Daytona) and finish fourth felt good, but at the same time it was like, ‘Damn, I want to win and wish I had a little bit more for the 9 (Chase Elliott) car and had a shot at it.”
The downslide in performance for Johnson’s team has been both a surprising turn of events after such prolonged success and a significant headline within the sport. Since his last win, Johnson has split with long-time crew chief Chad Knaus (2018), went 21 races into the following season with Kevin Meendering before Cliff Daniels was promoted, and he missed the playoffs for the first time (2019).
Once thought to be invincible, Johnson and company have struggled for consistency. Johnson has led 99 laps this season and had a few decent chances to capitalize only for misfortune to strike. He has seven top-10 finishes.
While Johnson admits that “time is running out” to win, he continues to remind everyone that racing isn’t over for him. Earlier this week, he expressed hope in putting together a deal to run the road and street course schedule in IndyCar next season, and Johnson has never shut the door on running a Cup race again.
“I feel like something that does help me is that this isn’t a ‘hard stop’ for me in motorsports, and I know that there are wins still out there for me,” said Johnson. “That’s just the glass is half full point of view that I have, and I guess maybe the way I managed some of the disappointment over the last few years.
“But I need to make the most of each opportunity I have ahead, and I certainly will do that.”
Dover is one such opportunity. A doubleheader presents Johnson and the No. 48 team a chance to succeed on Saturday and then apply lessons for a better Sunday race. Johnson is an 11-time winner at Dover.