As he left pit road on his first lap of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson knew immediately something was wrong with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
The car lost fuel pressure, and Johnson pulled down to the apron before completing the lap. Back in the garage, his team replaced the fuel cell – a time-consuming process – and Johnson returned to the track with less than 14 minutes left in the 85-minute session.
After running one lap, the seven-time champion returned to the garage. He got back on track in the final five minutes, ran two laps and finished the session 19th on the speed chart, slowest among the eight playoff drivers.
The bottom line? It was not a stellar start to the weekend for Johnson, who is fifth in the standings, trailing fourth-place Kevin Harvick by three points. The seven-time Texas winner must climb into the top four in the next two events to run for a record eighth title Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Johnson remains optimistic about his chances.
“One thing I know about our team is when we get hot – and we can get hot quick – great things can happen,” he said. “As we all know, the summer wasn’t fun for us, and as the Playoffs started we have been able to ratchet it up some and clean up some areas, but we are still searching a little bit and looking for more speed.
“We had a great test session in Homestead (in late October) and some great thinking and ideas that were put into place for this weekend, so we’re excited to get on track, knowing how fast this track is.”
Even if the first full lap on the track was quite a bit later than planned.
Johnson found a bit of redemption later Friday, advancing to the final round of qualifying and snagging the ninth starting spot for Sundays race.