Jimmie Johnson is down to his last chance.
The defending Sprint Cup champion’s crash at Kansas and so-so result one week ago at Charlotte has put him 26 points behind the cutoff for the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A win in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is probably his only chance to move on.
But even with the long odds of winning on NASCAR’s most unpredictable track, Johnson said he was excited about getting one more chance.
“Two bad races would have eliminated me from any opportunity of winning a championship in each previous format,” he said today at ‘Dega. “So I feel like I have a third opportunity this weekend. Granted, it’s a tough one and a lofty goal; there are many other guys out there with the same goal, not only from a Chase situation but also trying to win a race this year.
“I’ve got a lot of work ahead for myself and this team this weekend so we’re ready for the challenge. We’ll get out there to work and see what happens.”
However, he also said that while he’s thought long and hard about how to approach Sunday’s elimination race, there was no “clear vision” to him about what strategy would be best.
“Racing for it can get you in trouble. Riding can get you in trouble,” he said. “If you ride at some point, you have to go to the front. With this rules package, it’s much more difficult to get track position.
“It seems like with maybe three pit stops to go, you need to have control of the race and maintain it – or at least be in first or second to be at the head of the line and give yourself a chance to win.
“So I don’t know… I really don’t. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. From the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win.”
Should Sunday see Johnson fail to advance, it will mark the effective end of a season that has been hit-or-miss for him, crew chief Chad Knaus, and the No. 48 team. While Johnson’s won three times in 2014, flashes of his usual dominance have not been sustained.
With another new rules package coming in next season, Johnson said that if he did not move forward in the Chase, he and the 48 camp would likely shift their focus to getting a head-start on 2015 as it would “be in our best interest.”
But right now, everything is focused on winning at ‘Dega – and pushing that particular scenario back for at least three more races.