Remember Jimmie Johnson? He’s still racing in the Cup Series.
The seven-time Cup Series champion is in the midst of another summer slump. Since getting his third win of the season at Dover in early June, Johnson’s best finish has been 10th (twice) and has finished outside the top 30 on three occasions.
So what the heck’s going on?
“I wish we knew why summers are so hard on us,” Johnson said Friday. “Believe me, we sit down every winter and talk about how we can turn it around and avoid that summer slump. I think it shows how hard it is to stay on top. Most teams have lulls in a season, and we have been able to start well and end well. That’s served us well over the years.”
Yes it has. Johnson’s team was mired in a similar slump in 2016. He even discussed being an underdog of sorts entering last year’s playoffs. Lo and behold, the No. 48 team had speed at Chicagoland and Johnson won the final race of the playoffs to capture a record-tying seventh title.
This is obviously not uncharted territory for Johnson. And while it’s easy to bet on Johnson again when the playoffs begin in two weeks at Chicago, his summer struggles mean more in 2017 than they have in years past.
With NASCAR’s new playoff format giving drivers bonus points for the playoffs based on regular season race wins, stage wins and their place in the points standings at the end of the regular season, Johnson’s 16 bonus points are the fourth-most of any driver.
But he’s fallen outside the top 10 in points, meaning he’s not currently in a position to add to that total after Richmond. Brad Keselowski is currently in sixth in the standings and has 14 bonus points. With five points for finishing sixth, Keselowski can jump ahead of Johnson in the playoff standings. A win Sunday at Darlington or in a week a Richmond will go a long way to solidifying Johnson as a serious threat for an unprecedented eighth title.
“There are probably seven or eight years that feel like this,” Johnson said. “It’s not just last year. We have some decent races in the summer, but more bad ones than good ones. If we look back at this summer, if I’m not leaking oil at Indy [before a crash while racing for the lead] then I have a shot at winning and the conversation changes.
“At Bristol, we had a fantastic race going and I got in the wall late in the race that took us out of an opportunity to win or finish in the top-three. But there are some moments where the conversation could have changed but haven’t. But I know those final 10 races – at least nine of them – are amazing track for me. We always count on that.”
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