Johnson feels no pressure about recent lack of wins

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After heading into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup with a series of poor finishes, Jimmie Johnson started the post-season with a solid fifth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway. But the five-time champion has not won a race since he claimed the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona this past summer.

Nonetheless, Johnson feels that it’s not wise to look back upon the regular season at all during the Chase. It also seems that he is fully aware that he’ll have his chances to pick up critical wins in the final nine events.

“It doesn’t matter if you dominated [the regular season] or if you’ve been behind – [The Chase] is a 10-race stretch of it’s own,” Johnson said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “With that in mind, I haven’t won in a week. I finished fifth and had a shot to win last week. So, that’s how you have to look at it honestly.

“I know that Dover, Martinsville, our performance on the plate tracks this year, and on 1.5-miles in general, I know there are very good opportunities for us ahead. So, blinders on – focus on the No. 48 [car], focus on what we need to do and not let the outside opinions or what goes on to be a distraction for us.

“We need to run our best 10. I honestly feel if we put together our 10 best races, we’ll be in contention for the championship.”

So far, so good for Johnson, who has won the Chase with much worse results in a post-season opener than the fifth-place finish he got at Chicagoland. His run to the 2006 Cup title began rather poorly with a 39th-place finish at NHMS in that year’s first Chase race.

One of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finds himself in the same position this time around after an engine failure ruined his race last weekend.

Johnson feels that neither Earnhardt or Joey Logano (who also had an engine failure) are done for in the championship, but noted that poor finishes can remove the ability to hold your own destiny in the end.

“As you have poor finishes or bad finishes or whatever the cause, you lose control and that’s the worst part,” Johnson said. “But we’ll see. In 10 races, anything can happen. Talladega is still out there in front of us and I think once you get through Talladega, the championship picture becomes much more clear.

“Again, it’s not the way they want to start, but it’s not time to panic yet.”

Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.