- Seven-Time Cup Champ In Unfamiliar Territory As An Underdog
This is the first feature/video vignette of a weekly series that will appear each Thursday that focuses on contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The series will run up to the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8, set for Sunday, Nov. 4, at Texas Motor Speedway.
FORT WORTH, Texas (September 20, 2018) – It has been more than 16 years since Jimmie Johnson made his first trip to Victory Lane in NASCAR’s premier racing division now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Since that inaugural victory on April 28, 2002 at Auto Club Speedway in his home state of California, Johnson has won 82 more times, including a 10-win season in 2007. Entering this season, he has been a multiple race winner every year of a career highlighted by a record-tying seven Cup Series championships, including five in a row from 2006-10.
But as the MENCS Playoffs shift to Richmond Raceway (Va.) for the second race in the Round of 16 on Saturday night, Johnson finds himself not only looking for his first win of 2018 but staring at the possibility of elimination in the opening round.
In the above video, Johnson discusses his role as an underdog in the MENCS Playoffs. Click “Share” in the top right corner of the video to for downloading, embedding or sharing options.
He currently is below the cut in 13th, six points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for that final transfer spot to the Round of 12. Johnson finished 22nd in the the playoff opener last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“There have been years when I wasn’t on the championship radar – 2015 was a tough year, ’17 and now in ’18 unfortunately is. But through it all I clearly had a lot of looks at championships, which is so unique and rare,” Johnson said. “I’m not happy with where I’m at, but I know we’re getting better. My commitment has never been stronger, we just have to go to work and grind it out. We just have to bring our best every single week to survive in these playoffs.”
It’s been nearly 6,000 days and close to 600 races that have come and gone since Johnson’s first trip to Victory Lane. His last trip there came 473 days ago at Dover International Speedway. Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (6:30 p.m. CT, TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN) will be Johnson’s 51st start since that victory in Delaware last June, the longest stretch between wins in the veteran driver’s career.
Over the last 50 races, Johnson uncharacteristically has recorded only 14 top-10 finishes, with a mere three among the top five. That might be the most telling sign of the struggles the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team has endured. Consistency was the trademark by which the team built its seven championships. Running well in the NASCAR Playoffs also has been a hallmark of the No. 48 team.
Johnson, however, is hesitant to use history as a model for success in 2018 in spite of the fact that he has combined to win 40 times at eight of the nine remaining tracks on the schedule, including a track-record seven at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Statistically, I think it’s easy to say the 48 can make it to Homestead. Just how it lays out. Texas being one of those tracks,” said Johnson, who won November’s AAA Texas 500 four consecutive times from 2012-15. “They all fall at key points in time to help me transfer and stay alive. But I’m more in the now and where we’ve been running. And top 10s have been a little tougher than we’ve wanted at times; top fives have been pretty rare for us this year, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Johnson’s reluctance to consider his team a contender shouldn’t be confused with a lack of motivation to win another championship. Johnson is well aware of his place in NASCAR history as he currently sits tied with two Hall of Famers – Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. – with seven Cup titles.
“When I look back at the championships I’ve won, they’ve each had their own emotional journey that was rewarded and heightened by the success of winning the championship,” Johnson said. “I know what eight would mean to me. The importance of eight, the significance of eight in our sport, in general, would be outside of my ability to articulate or comprehend right now.”
The AAA Texas 500 highlights a NASCAR Playoffs tripleheader in November at Texas Motor Speedway. The JAG Metals 350 Camping World Truck Series Round of 6 playoff race will be held Friday, Nov. 2, and the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Xfinity Series Round of 8 playoff race is set for Saturday, Nov. 3. For more information on the AAA Texas 500 race weekend, please visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com.