Race Weekend Central

Jimmie Johnson Scores 1st Top 10 of 2018 at Auto Club Speedway

Jimmie Johnson scored his first top-10 finish since Charlotte last October Sunday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway. It wasn’t easy, but the ninth-place run was much needed in a hometown race for the El Cajon, Ca. native.

“Each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said after the race. The performance snapped the longest drought without a top-10 run (10 races) during his 16-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now but we are seeing improvements, we have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better and we are getting more competitive… we are getting closer every week.”

The run capped a week Hendrick Motorsports might want to forget. Johnson’s sponsor, Lowe’s, announced Wednesday (March 14) they won’t return for the 2019 Cup Series season. Teammate Chase Elliott was hit with an L1 penalty after rear suspension issues surfaced during Phoenix post-race inspection. Pending appeal, he lost 25 crucial driver and owner points.

But the bigger issue facing the No. 48 team – and HMS in general – is the inability to make it through inspection. All four cars failed to do so in time to make a lap during Friday’s Fontana qualifying. That left Johnson starting 33rd and in a difficult position to even contend during Sunday’s stretch of long green-flag runs.

“We’ve got to go back, we have to talk obviously, internally, and talk with NASCAR,” Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition at HMS said after qualifying. “We felt like we were making changes, obviously in the area affected and just we were not seeing the results when we went back through.

“Obviously, there was more than just our four cars, so we need to work with NASCAR on it. I know they don’t want to see this either and we have to figure out a solution going forward.”

Just two weeks ago, Jesse Saunders, Johnson’s car chief, was ejected from Las Vegas Motor Speedway after the car failed pre-race inspection three times. That nullified a 14th-place qualifying effort although Johnson rebounded to finish 12th, his previous best result of the year.

This time, Johnson’s bounce back was better. Starting 33rd, the No. 48 car methodically made its way into the top 10 by the end of stage one. In all, he collected 10 stage bonus points, easily the most for the seven-time champion all season. The ninth-place finish also marked Johnson’s best result since an 11th at Kansas Speedway last October.

On the strength of his first top 10 of the year, Johnson moved up to 18th in the point standings. He now sits 18 markers behind 16th-place Alex Bowman ahead of a trip to Martinsville, one of his best tracks. The 42-year-old has nine career wins and 24 top 10s in 32 starts on the paperclip-shaped oval.

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About the author

Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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DoninAjax

The band wagon is overloaded again. Like usual. There won’t be any “What’s wrong with Johnson?” articles until he has a few “bad” events in a row.

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