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.”