Johnson off to a very bad start

Associated Press

Jimmie Johnson’s start to the NASCAR season is not worthy of a seven-time champion.

How bad is it? He has just one top-10 finish in five races and goes to Martinsville Speedway mired in a career-worst 28-race losing streak.

But Johnson can take heart in this: He has nine victories at Martinsville, most among active drivers, and despite his slump must be considered a favorite for today’s race at the Virginia short track.

He laughed Saturday at the reminder of his losing streak, which dates to Dover, Delaware, last June, and pointed out he did indeed win three Cup races in 2018.

If fans of Johnson’s No. 48 team are freaking out — especially since Lowe’s, the only primary sponsor he’s had in the Cup, is leaving at the end of the season — Johnson is not. The reality is the most consistent and successful driver of his generation is the veteran during a Hendrick Motorsports reorganization and Chevrolet’s launch of an on-track Camaro.

There’s a lot of stuff going on and it’s going to take time to work out the kinks.

“At the end of last year, there were layers of high frustration and some embarrassment that we just couldn’t get things going in the right direction,” Johnson said Saturday. “This year, we’ve improved every week and have seen great strides. I’m very optimistic that success is out there in front of us and around the corner.

“But, through it all, I live in the moment and understand where I am and where our team is and what we’re doing as a company. I know the journey that we’re on. I know what’s happening internally to build a better product and to better use our resources to build a better think tank. There’s a journey of growth going on right now at the company.”

Hendrick’s lineup was overhauled because of retirements by Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne was released from his contract at the end of last season. The team is now Johnson, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron. Johnson is the only active Cup winner in the lineup.

Through five races this season, Johnson sits 18th in the standings. He was involved in crashes during all of his races at Daytona, and it took until last week in his home state of California for Johnson to put a big number on the board: ninth at Fontana.

“I’m not losing sleep over it,” he said. “I know I’m going to win races. I know this team is going to win races. I know we’re going to compete for a championship.”

Johnson isn’t getting much sympathy, even within his own company.

“I would like to have his slump,” Elliott said. “You don’t forget how to drive. You don’t change your driving habits. The guy is still one of, if not the greatest driver to ever come through NASCAR.”

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