The finishes seem implausible, especially because they’ve come in succession — 42nd place at Daytona, 42nd at New Hampshire, a brief improvement to 14th at the Brickyard, followed by a dip to 39th at Pocono and 28th at Watkins Glen.
This is Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s six-time Sprint Cup champion?
“It has been a very challenging year,” Johnson said. “We started off without the speed that we wanted. We got the speed back and then the luck left. So, we choose to look at it as we’re getting all this out of the way so we can have 10 great races.”
With three victories on the season, Johnson is safely in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but lately the No. 48 car has had its share of problems. The latest setback came Friday when Johnson finished 30th in qualifying at Michigan International Speedway, complaining afterward about a vibrating car.
Johnson won at MIS earlier this season — his third victory in four races at the time — but based on his recent form, a repeat isn’t looking especially likely in today’s Cup race.
Johnson finished in the top 10 two more times after winning at Michigan in June. Then his run of misfortune began. He was one of several top contenders taken out by a couple huge accidents at Daytona, then tire issues did him in at New Hampshire. He fell a lap down at Pocono after his rear right tire smacked the wall. He rebounded to run fifth, then a second blown tire forced him to the garage.
More of the same last weekend at Watkins Glen: With only a few laps to go, Johnson was bumped and his No. 48 spun around.
“We’re not trying to make excuses or asking for sympathy from anybody,” Johnson said. “But we can’t ignore the results and fortunately we’re in the Chase era, and we’re sitting in a great position.”
There are four more races until the Chase, so Johnson has a little while to reverse this trend. Although it’s been a humbling stretch for him, he should still be considered a threat for the title at the end of the season.
“It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase. If it doesn’t happen, we’ve won championships that way, too,” Johnson said. “So, we’re taking it as it comes.”