For the past 18 seasons, Jimmie Johnson has been one of the top drivers in NASCAR, but even he is human.
After a rash of seven championships and 83 victories, Johnson is on a current drought of 43 races since he last visited Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway. And since the No. 48 team won its seventh title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2016, it’s been a tough go of it.
Following a third-place finish in the second stage of last weeks race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and a 10th-place finish, he believes things are looking up for the No. 48 team.
“Maybe we see things before they have a chance to be fully vetted and show up on the track with the results, but I think last weekend was a strong indicator we are going in the right direction,” Johnson said Saturday at Pocono Raceway. “We have had various high spots along the way, but this has been way more challenging to…
“I would say through the middle part of last year and then in through this year for myself, for the No. 48 team, I think for our company, it’s been way more challenging than we anticipated. It took us awhile to get into this position, it’s going to take us awhile to get out of it and we continue to see high spots or things that are very motivating for us.”
Through 20 races this season, Johnson has a pair of top-five efforts, with a season-best of third at Bristol Motor Speedway in mid-April. The No. 48 car has five additional top 10s.
Meanwhile, he’s led just 15 laps, and is on pace for setting a career-low, which he set last year at 217 laps out front.
“It’s been a tough 18 months there is no doubt about it,” he said. “I think I personally have gone through moments of confident in myself, not confident in myself, it’s this, it’s that, you know I’m human it’s impossible to not be hard on myself and then other times I can relax if it’s a good race or the team is like ‘oh man we shouldn’t have done this that is why we had a bad weekend’ then that gives me some relief in beating up myself.
“But any athlete it doesn’t matter the sport that you are in when you have a dry spell, this type of scenario for a long stretch of time it is tough on you and it’s been tough on me.”
After the final lap of the season at Homestead, Johnson’s primary sponsor, for the past 600 races, Lowe’s, will be exiting the sport. The process of finding a new primary sponsor has been an exciting one for the seven-time champion.
“Things have been great. A lot of optimism and there is a lot of interest with being on the [No.] 48 car,” Johnson said. “Some of them are more traditional, introductional level as you would expect and see. Of course, a lot of interest, amazing people, great companies. There are some companies that really I feel my brand and who I am as an individual fits that brand so well and have my expectations and hopes are around those. It’s been a very interesting and educational process.”
Heading into Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono, Johnson sits 13th on the playoff grid, 97 points above Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is the first driver on the outside looking in.
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