Jimmie Johnson has had his fair share of struggles in the 2019 season. Even though he opened the year with a win in The Clash, it has not been easy ever since. After having Chad Knaus as a longtime crew chief his entire career prior to 2019, he is now working with his second crew chief of the season in Cliff Daniels. His results have not been great during the summer, leading to him being on the playoff bubble.
What has been the main reason for his struggles? Did Knaus mean that much to Johnson and his success, or is it just a bad stretch for his team? Can it be fixed?
Meanwhile, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series opens up the first round of the playoffs this week at Bristol Motor Speedway. There have been several surprises this season and many unexpected drivers to visit victory lane, along with some shut out of it that we thought could break through this year. One surprise has been Tyler Ankrum. After not being eligible to run all of the races until March, he has been on a hot streak since scoring his first career win at Kentucky Speedway in July.
Can he legitimately make a run at the Championship 4? Is he adjusting to the series more, or has the team just gotten that much better? What are realistic expectations for him in the playoffs?
Q: What do you think is the biggest reason for Jimmie Johnson’s struggles this season? Edward G., Boston, MA
A: While I believe a lot of it has to do with luck, Johnson’s struggles could be linked to working with a new crew chief and adjusting to the new package as well. There are a lot of factors mixed in as to why he has been struggling so much in 2019.
After working with long-time crew chief Knaus, Johnson worked with Kevin Mendeering for the first 21 races this season. Results did not show at all, and they soon brought in Daniels at Watkins Glen to try and rejuvenate that No. 48 team. It is way too soon to tell if that has worked with only two races in the books, but there are people within the sport who believe this is going to be the move to get Johnson back in victory lane and back to being a contender in the very near future.
Change is something Johnson has not dealt with much in his career when we come to think of it. His team remained the same for many of the championships in the 2000s, but he did deal with some change in this decade. Despite that, he was still able to capture the 2013 and 2016 championships. So the question arises, what really is the issue?
The package is something that I feel does not fit Johnson’s driving style. When we think of Johnson, we think of a driver who likes to hang it out with a loose race car and little downforce, much of what we have seen in Cup throughout his career. This package has an immense amount of downforce, preventing him from having a car to his liking much of the time. Some drivers adapt better than others, and it seems like he hasn’t been able to just yet. That takes nothing away from his talent though, as we know he is one of the greatest of all time.
Most of the time, Johnson runs in the back half of the top 10 to just outside of it. While for many this would be considered a good race, it is definitely not what we have been used to seeing from a seven-time champion.
No matter what happens this season or in the future seasons of his career, his legacy will always be remembered and cherished. It would be great for the sport to see him run like he did when he was winning championships again, but that will be difficult to accomplish at this rate. He is not done yet at all, and I do think he makes the playoffs. Who knows? One good race can start a spark for this team, and maybe we can see Johnson go on a magical run towards an eighth championship. This sport is unpredictable sometimes, so we just never know.
Q: Who has been the biggest surprise of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series this season now that we are into the playoffs? Peter B., New York, NY
A: As much as Ross Chastain can be considered as a surprise this season, I am going to say Tyler Ankrum and the DGR-Crosley team.
It seemed as if Ankrum was not even on the map going into the summer as he was not even eligible to run the full season until after the first few races of the year. It was not the easiest of transitions for the young driver coming from the K&N Pro Series East to the Truck Series.
Once we hit the summer in June, his results started to improve in a huge way, eventually resulting in that first career win that got him into the playoffs at Kentucky in July. For somebody who no one thought would come close to winning a race this season, he had an impressive regular season, and now he has a shot at a championship in just his first season.
Going into the playoffs, it is extremely hard to rule him out as being a championship favorite with the way he has been running lately. Outside of his wreck at Michigan, he has had a stellar stretch of races since his win at Kentucky. And don’t forget that he restarted on the front row and was just as much a threat to win Michigan if not for that. Even at Michigan, he was leading the race before spinning the tires and wrecking near the end. There is a lot of upside for the 18-year-old Ankrum.
While it is possible for the other teams to step it up come playoff time this weekend at Bristol, Ankrum has a chance to make some more noise in the series. If he continues on the run he has been on, there is no reason in my mind that he cannot make the Championship 4 at Homestead. As wild as that sounds, it is the truth. He has talent as he has proven, and that team has improved greatly as the season has gone on. Now at the most crucial time of year, can they continue this momentum and capture another win to move on to the next round?