Reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s recent elimination from the Chase is certainly not what he, crew chief Chad Knaus, and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had in mind for this season.
Johnson’s 24th-place finish in last weekend’s Contender Round finale at Talladega Superspeedway officially knocked him out of the championship battle.
He almost pulled it off, leading a race-high 84 laps. But he was shuffled out of the pack in the final stages and could not recover.
Ever the optimist, though, Johnson believes that he and the team will use their exit from the Chase as “great medicine” – motivation to come back better than ever and get that record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship in 2015.
“It wasn’t fun leaving Kansas or Charlotte,” Johnson said today at Martinsville Speedway, where he’s seeking his ninth Cup victory this weekend. “It was relatively dark – not a lot of sunlight floating around – but you have that. I truly believe those moments make you stronger and they make you dig in deeper, and really, it’s great medicine for the 48.
“I don’t want to be in this position, but this is great medicine to sit and watch this championship unfold. It’s gonna motivate me, Chad…All of us on the 48 team. So we’ll be back next year, and ready to roll.”
Talladega did a serious number on Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase hopes, eliminating Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leaving four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon as its last bullet.
You would figure that Gordon will now have all of Hendrick’s resources at his disposal, including help from his three teammates.
However, Johnson says that there may only be so much his team can do in that regard, noting that he and Gordon have been “relatively far apart” on car set-ups throughout the year.
“Outside of them painting a 48 car for us and us running it and trying to give them direct info, that’s about the only way I think we can help,” Johnson said.
Still, Johnson will make sure to keep tabs on Gordon’s whereabouts during races and let him know of changes on his set-up that work for him.
“We’ll do what we can – mainly, be there to answer questions,” he said. “I’ve always won championships by keeping it simple, and I feel like getting too far away from the normal and over-thinking things creates problems for me.
“I’m not sure how Jeff wants to go about things, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they just keep to themselves and do what they can. It’s what got them in this position, and that’s what’s gonna win them a championship.”