This year has not been one of Jimmie Johnson‘s best, yet he still qualified for the playoffs — the only driver to be a part of all 15 NASCAR postseasons.
On Monday (Sept. 10) at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Johnson finished 16th, around where the No. 48 car has been all season speed-wise. He did, however, earn a stage point in the second stage, finishing 10th.
But if the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion is going down this season, he’s going down swinging.
“I wish we were sitting here with better speed and better form. We’re not. We’re all trying really hard, so we’ll keep digging,” Johnson said after the Brickyard 400. “We do have time ahead of us if we can get through some of those rounds and get hot at the right time, get a key win. We can get to Homestead. We’re going to keep fighting and fight hard with this team and close as strong as we possibly can.”
Through the opening 26 races of the season, Johnson has a pair of top-five finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, with six additional top-10 finishes. The No. 48 team is on pace to having the same amount of top 10s this season, as it did in 2017, a career-low (11) for the Hendrick Motorsports crew.
“I’m off the radar, in my opinion,” Johnson said on if he’s flying under radar heading into the Playoffs. “I haven’t led laps. I haven’t knocked down top fives to be on the radar of the winning cars and teams of the favorites right now. It’s something we’ve got to get better at.
“We have a standard of expectations for this whole team. I think this year has been a readjustment of sorts. What I do know is we will work as hard as we possibly can from start to finish and I hope we can get the results we need to in order to get through some rounds, and certainly get hot at the right time of the year.”
The No. 48 car paced the field in just five races this season, for a total of 29 laps. Last year, Johnson led 217 laps, thus far a career-low.
With an average finish of 17th heading into the postseason — the worst of Johnson’s 17 full-time seasons — doesn’t feel a sense of relief to just be a part of the 16 drivers eligible for the title.
” To run 15th or 16th like I did today, that’s not relief. The reality is there’s a three-race stretch coming up,” he said. “The first couple rounds you can get in on points, but we need to start winning quick if we want our championship hopes to be where we want.”
More than half (43) of Johnson’s 83 career wins have come in the 10 racetracks that are in the postseason, excluding the ROVAL which will make its debut in three weeks (Sept. 30). His last win came at Dover International Speedway in June of 2017.