Johnson’s personal playground shuns him

The track that used to be Jimmie Johnson’s personal playground recently has become an enigma to the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Johnson wheel-hopped and spun in Turn 3 during Sunday’s qualifying session at Martinsville Speedway. Precautionary changes to the rear end of the No. 48 Chevrolet sent the nine-time Martinsville winner to the rear for the start of the First Data 500.

Handling was an issue throughout the race. Ultimately, Johnson salvaged a 12th-place finish after losing a lap and getting it back as the highest scored lapped car under ninth of 11 cautions.

But it was a far cry from the domination Johnson showed at the .526-mile paper-clip-shaped track, where he won five races in a six-race span from 2006 through 2009. The only saving grace was a strategy play that earned Johnson seven points in the races first stage after he stayed out on old tires and finished fourth in the segment.

“We were just terrible all day,” acknowledged Johnson, who ended the day fifth in the standings, three points behind Kevin Harvick in fourth. “Oh, what a bummer. We had high hopes for this weekend. Man, it just didn’t turn out so well.

“So we scored some points here and there. We’ll go to the next one and try to get more.”

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