It’s poetic injustice that Jimmie Johnson is making his 600th start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the throes of the worst slump of his career.
The seven-time champion hasn’t been to Victory Lane since June 4 of last year, when he took a checkered flag for the record 11th time at Dover. Since then, the drought has stretched to a career-long 43 races entering Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Johnson’s performance issues aren’t isolated. Hendrick Motorsports, his parent organization, hasn’t won a race with any of its four cars since Kasey Kahne’s swan-song victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2017.
But Johnson will take the green flag for the 600th time in NASCAR’s top series with his positive outlook intact.
“I think a top five is probably in the realistic standpoint, stage points, but you never know,” Johnson said on Saturday morning before opening Cup practice at the Tricky Triangle. “That’s that optimism that I refuse to lose. I still know I can win these races—that hasn’t changed. That hasn’t gone anywhere. We just need to get the whole package together.”
To do so, Johnson and his entire team will have to rediscover the critical mass that has propelled the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet to 83 victories and the record-tying seven titles.
“This whole journey I’ve been on just shows me how important timing is for any team, driver, crew chief, owner, whatever it might be,” said Johnson, who turned the fifth fastest lap in final practice at 174.744 mph. “I was very fortunate to have timing for a large stretch of time—manufacturer, team, crew chief, driver all hitting at 10 tenths.
“We individualize the sport very often, and it’s way more than just one person that makes this whole thing go. I’m patiently waiting and hoping that we get the timing back and get all the pieces pushed in the right direction, and we can get back to our form that we once had.”