LAS VEGAS, Nev. – If a 12th-place finish, one lap down, can ever be considered heroic, Jimmie Johnson had such a result in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion entered the race a dismal 35th in the standings after crashes in the first two races of the season, at Daytona and Atlanta.
And Sunday didn’t start on a high note. Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection three times, costing the team the services of car chief Jesse Sauders, who was ejected from the event. Johnson started the race from the 37th position and went a lap down to race winner Kevin Harvick on Lap 34.
Throughout the race, however, Johnson was able to stay far enough ahead of Harvick to stay one lap down, notably during the long green-flag run that made up the second stage. Damage to the front end of the car also was an impediment.
But Johnson got back on the lead lap as the “lucky dog” (highest scored lapped car) under the fourth caution and salvaged the 12th-place finish. It was a small step, but a significant one.
One of the keys to Johnson’s recovery was patience—resisting the urge to overdrive the car.
“At the end of last year, and even in Atlanta, I was trying too hard,” Johnson said. “Just giving 100 percent and driving the car where it’s at and bringing it home is what I need to start doing.
“I’ve been trying to carry it, and I’ve crashed more cars in the last six months than I have really in any six month stretch or whole year stretch. (I’m) just trying to drive it 100 percent and not step over that line.”