Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Johnson Poised to Again Overcome Summer Slump
Jimmie Johnson captured his best finish in over three months by placing eighth in Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
After winning at Dover in June, the seven-time champion struggled ever since as Richmond marked only his third top-10 since the victory.
A summer slump seems to be a trend for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Even in his first championship season of 2006, he placed outside the top-10 in four of the five races leading up to the Playoffs.
Similar poor finishes resulted in his following title years as the stretch ahead of the final ten events never seemed to favor the No. 48 team.
However, this summer seemed to be especially frustrating for Johnson.
The year started out well for the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series champion as he scored back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol, locking up his post-season spot early.
Winning again at Dover further solidified a strong playoff point sum and put the team in an ideal position for the remainder of the regular season.
As the next three months played out, it proved to be anything but comfortable for Johnson.
He placed outside the top-25 in four of the five races between Kentucky and Watkins Glen. Three of those resulted from crashes, leading to a total of five DNF’s through the first 26 events of the year. He has never had more than four en route to a championship.
Consistently capturing poor finishes attested to a lack of speed out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable that seemed to impact all four teams.
While it’s a major concern heading into the first round of the Playoffs, it has never seemed to deter Johnson nor the organization in previous years.
In 2013, the 41-year-old finished outside the top-25 in the final four regular season races but then only placed worse than tenth once in the last ten events.
Under the current format where a victory guarantees a driver a spot in the next round, consistency isn’t as critical if a driver can win once in each set of three races.
Johnson used this to his advantage last season by visiting Victory Lane at Charlotte in round two and Martinsville in round three to advance to Homestead-Miami where he won the race and the title.
A similar performance will be needed if the No. 48 team hopes to put the first 26 races behind them and move onto to their most successful part of the schedule.
No matter what curveballs are thrown at Johnson ahead of the Playoffs, he seems to excel. The defending champion will enter fifth on the Playoff Grid with 17 bonus points as he chases a historic eighth championship.
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