Over the hill? Jimmie Johnson doesn’t think so

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 24: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 24, 2018 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race since he triumphed at Dover on June 4 of last year.

That constitutes a winless streak of 28 races, the longest drought of Johnson’s career.

But the seven-time series champion scoffed at the notion that his prolonged absence from Victory Lane represents a decline in his prowess on the track.

“I don’t think that way,” said the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in advance of Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FS1). “At the end of last year, there were layers of high frustration and some embarrassment that we just couldn’t get things going in the right direction. This year, we’ve improved every week and have seen great strides. So I’m very optimistic that success is out there in front of us and around the corner.

“But, through it all, I live in the moment and understand where I am and where our team is and what we’re doing as a company. I know the journey that we’re on. I know what’s happening internally to build a better product and to better use our resources to build a better think tank, if you will, and how all the crew chiefs work together. So there’s a journey of growth going on right now at the company.”

Johnson has 83 victories at NASCAR highest level, tied for sixth on the all-time list with Cale Yarborough and 40 ahead of Kyle Busch, who is second among active drivers. Accordingly, a 28-race winless streak doesn’t have Johnson pulling out his hair.

“I’m reminded every week of a streak that’s not one that you want to be reminded of – but I’m not losing sleep over it,” Johnson said. “I know I’m going to win races. I know this team is going to win races. I know we’re going to compete for championships. It’s just getting all of our stuff right.

“I think people often take for granted how competitive pro sports are and how competitive this garage area is. And although we’ve been able to do some pretty amazing things that have never been done before, I think it’s unfair to believe that it can last forever.”

Chase Elliott, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, hasn’t seen a decline in skill in the 42-year-old driver.

“I would like to have his slump,” Elliott quipped. “I don’t know about everybody else. Look, everybody tries to ride on the age thing that is just so not true. You don’t forget how to drive. You don’t change your driving habits.

“You don’t just do all that in the course of a couple of years, and the guy is still one of, if not the greatest driver ever to ever come through NASCAR. I would probably say the best ever without question.”

Told of Elliott’s assertion, Johnson said simply, “I’ll take it.”