With three wins on the season, Jimmie Johnson need not worry about the free-for-all that’s to ensue for the final two Chase spots on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway
But while he says that he’s relaxed going into the Federated Auto Parts 400, he’s particularly focused on trying to recapture his previous form at RIR.
Johnson has won three times on the 3/4-mile oval, including a sweep of the spring and fall events in 2007. But he has not earned a Top-10 result at this track since he finished sixth in the 2012 spring event.
“I would love to win; I’d love to be racing for the win,” said Johnson, who finished 32nd at RIR this past April thanks in part to late-race tire issues. “But this track has been really tough on us for whatever reason. So, I feel like I have much less pressure on myself due to the Chase-side. But a lot more pressure on myself from the personal side. I need to figure this place out.
“There was a point in time when I was competitive here. But of late, this has been one of our worst tracks. So, from my standpoint and the pressure I’m putting on myself, there’s more pressure here than you would ever expect because I just hate having these huge weak spots in the schedule and at certain race tracks.”
Still, Johnson and the 48 camp appear to have recovered from their mid-season slump with back-to-back Top 5s in the last two races at Atlanta and Bristol (both fourths).
The only question is how Johnson will be seeded for the Chase, where he’ll be gunning for a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championshi.
However, Johnson says he’s not feeling the pressure of pulling even with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., and won’t feel it until it’s pretty much staring him in the face.
“Right now, it’s an opportunity to win this year’s championship,” he explained. “And it’s kind of been that way for me over the years, even when we had that consecutive streak going [2006-2010]. I didn’t feel the pressure of that streak, and I don’t think I’ll feel the pressure to try to tie our two greats in our sport until it’s right there in front of me.
“Right now, it’s just the championship. If I get to Homestead and have a chance and I’m one of the four – as much as I want to push that out of my mind that I’m racing for history, it will be there and I won’t be able to hide from it at that point.”