CHICAGO—For those who question the strength of the No. 48 team, driver Jimmie Johnson says he’s more confident entering the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year than he was last year when he won his sixth championship.
For those who say the No. 48 Chevy lacks speed, Johnson says he has plenty.
In fact, Johnson expects to be one of four drivers racing for the championship under NASCAR’s new playoff format, which will see four drivers eliminated at the end of each three-race round. The four remaining drivers then race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the highest finisher winning the championship.
Never mind that Johnson hasn’t won a race since mid-June, when he won at Michigan to score his third victory in a stretch of four events.
“We’ve come through some tracks that historically aren’t very good for us with top-10, top-five runs,” Johnson said Thursday during Chase Media Day at The Murphy. “I feel like we’ve gotten rid of the bad luck, we’re running where we should, we’re getting to the finish line.
“Now we’re coming into probably seven or eight of my best tracks. I feel like we’re definitely going in the right direction.”
And does he think the No. 48 Chevrolets have enough speed to keep up with Chase favorites Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick?
“I do,” Johnson said emphatically. “Honestly, I feel better about our chances this year, today, than I did last year on this same day. We came off of an embarrassing run at Richmond, we crashed out at Atlanta. We had a lot of things going in the other direction for us last year.
“We’re sitting here with three or four top 10s starting into the Chase, and that’s much better than where we were last year.”
Johnson says his team doesn’t consciously change its approach when the Chase arrives, but he understands why it seems that way.
“It’s not something conscious that we do, but, truthfully, I think we respond well to pressure,” he explained. “And we make good decisions when pressure is put on us. … I understand where the question comes from. I see it. I get it. I can look at the stats and completely understand.
“I just feel like the only logical way to look at it is, when pressure is on us, historically we make good decisions.”