AVONDALE, Ariz. – Last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jimmie Johnson won his seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship with a serendipitous victory in the Championship 4 race.
This year, Johnson will need more than serendipity. He’ll need what amounts to a miracle just to earn a shot at a record eighth title.
Johnson comes to Phoenix Raceway eighth in the series standings, last among the drivers trying to survive the Playoff’s Round of 8. With one berth available in the Championship 4, the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is 51 points behind fourth-place Brad Keselowski with no realistic chance to qualify for the finale on points.
Complicating Johnson’s problem are a year-long search for speed. During a season that has produced a career-low four top-five finishes, Johnson’s current winless streak has reached 21 races. That said, it’s hardly surprising that Johnson isn’t brimming with optimism about his chances at the one-mile flat track in the Sonoran Desert.
“We’re in a must-win-situation,” Johnson said on Friday morning before opening practice at Phoenix. “We wish we were in a better points scenario, but that’s not the case. This team thrives on pressure and adversity, and we’re certainly in the position right now. When we look at the last two or three races here, we’ve had very competitive cars.
“The effort was made this week to make sure we brought the best bullet—second to none—and I’m really proud of my team and the way that all of Hendrick Motorsports is working together to make sure that the No. 24 car (of teammate Chase Elliott) and the No. 48 car have their best chances to win here and move on and stay alive for the championship. We’ll find out Sunday afternoon.”
Johnson has a formidable streak on the line in this year’s Playoff. Since NASCAR adopted a postseason format in 2004, Johnson has won at least one race in the final 10 each year. He has two races left to keep the string going.
He will start 12th Sunday.