Johnson ‘fortunate’ for high expectations on team – Nascar

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won in the first five races of this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but the jury is still out on what to make of the situation.

Concern or indifference?

Johnson has won 80 times, more than any other active driver, and he’s a nine-time winner here at Martinsville. Which is also more than any other active driver.

He’s won the series championship seven times, and you know what comes next — more than any other active driver.

So a five-race winless streak isn’t a bump in the road for the driver of the blue and silver No. 48 Chevrolet. It’s not even a bug on the windshield.

But still it’s there and when you’ve spent your career raising the competitive bar, there are expectations. It’s the baggage of champions.

Those expectations don’t include a spin during practice, a need for a backup car and a 21st place finish. But that’s the short version of Johnson’s last appearance, just last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Very un-Johnson like.

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“If you haven’t won, why aren’t you winning and if you’ve won, can you do it again?” Johnson said Friday as his Hendrick Motorsports team began preparing for Sunday’s STP 500 (2 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “Everybody has a question.

“I am so fortunate in that my career has shifted in a way to where there are high expectations that come with it. I will gladly take that than a lot of shoes that other drivers are sitting in. I don’t mind that; I just find it amusing, the overreaction good and bad.”

Johnson says he’s made mistakes and the team has made mistakes and some calls haven’t gone their way, and when you add it all up you get an 0-for-5 start to the season and a 17th-place points position.

That someone so successful at his vocation would still be making the occasional mistake might seem surprising but Johnson admits, “It’s just tough to be 100 percent.”

“I have habits and tendencies in a race car that are mistakes that I make,” Johnson said. “It’s easy to try too hard in our cars.”

That might work in something such as open-wheel racing, where over-driving a car can have its rewards. But that’s not the case in NASCAR. Push too hard and you spin out. You hit the wall. You hit another competitor. Finding that edge is the key. It’s a never-ending search.

“Our fear factor is usually way above the grip factor of the cars and the tires,” he said. “It’s easy for me to get sucked into trying harder and making mistakes, and when you are not going forward to say ‘alright, let’s back off 10 percent and the car will go faster’ is the last thing you would imagine working or happening.”

Toss in more teams contending for wins, format changes that basically break each race into three shorter races with points up for grabs and you wind up with a tempo and rhythm out on the track unlike anything teams have faced before this season.

And because of that, Johnson said, “it’s easy to get sucked into an environment to make mistakes as a team and a driver.

“And as odd as it may sound, I think we are guilty, we are really guilty of that right now and we’ve got to dial that in.”

Few in the garage believe Johnson and the team are out of the competitive picture. Least of all those in the 48 camp.

Given his history at Martinsville, Sunday’s race might well be the turning point.

“Last fall went very well for us here,” he said of career win No. 9, “and (I’m) looking forward to a good race this weekend.”


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