Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – When you’re a seven-time champion in NASCAR’s elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, an 83-race winner, and perpetually on the verge of hoisting that unprecedented eighth championship trophy, people are watching, dissecting and diagnosing your every move.
Jimmie Johnson is especially experiencing that right now thanks to a 29-race winless streak. A mark that would seem luxurious and enviable to the vast majority of his competition, but it’s the longest of his first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Fame career and Johnson couldn’t be more ready to talk about something else.
Like another win at Texas Motor Speedway in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 this weekend (Sunday, April 8 at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM), or maybe a victory next week at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. That would do it.
He is the defending winner of both races – giving his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team some source of optimism about hitching horsepower to opportunity at these tracks.
Johnson isn’t just good at Texas. He’s the best.
With a record seven Cup wins, 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 29 starts on the mile-and-a-half Fort Worth high banks, Johnson has reason to change the conversation. He’s the all-time leader in laps led (1,041) and has a rare top-10 career average in both finish (8.8) and starting position (9.4).
In recognition of Johnson’s outstanding resume at the track and the fact he is the defending winner, Texas Motor Speedway is giving away Jimmie Johnson bobble head dolls to 30,000 among the anticipated sold-out crowd. That’s an additional 30,000 “nods” of support for a driver and team just working its way out of a rut.
And should it take another week for Johnson’s team to rally, Bristol certainly proved to be a motivating cause in 2017. For exactly the opposite reasons.
While Johnson is fully expected to win in Texas, Bristol is one of the rare venues that Johnson has not completely dominated. In fact his win in the spring race last year was only his second at the famous half-mile bullring – and first since the Spring of 2010, the year Johnson won an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup title.
He’s finished 11th or better in six of the last seven Bristol races and has a pair of runner-up finishes in the Spring 500-lapper, the last time in 2015.
Either venue – Texas or Bristol — certainly has the potential of redirecting Johnson’s 2018 course. And he’s counting on it.
Johnson is ranked 17th in the standings – a steady upward climb since a wreck early in the Daytona 500 put him in a points deficit to start the season. Although he has uncharacteristically not led a lap this season – yet – he has four top-15 finishes in the last four races and a season best of ninth place at California’s Auto Club Speedway.
His absence from Victory Lane is certainly not lost on Johnson, who has celebrated there more than any other driver he’s competing with this season. And there’s a reason he and his team know how to win. Perseverance has always been a part of his mindset – from the earliest days trying to make a name for himself on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
Last week, he offered up a quote from Babe Ruth – choosing to share it on social media and to remind his supporters – and any doubters – of his mindset.
“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up,” Johnson wrote, crediting the baseball great.
And, Johnson added, “I couldn’t agree more and can’t wait to get back to the track.”