Jimmie Johnson remains in the hunt for what would be his NASCAR record eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Johnson knows, however, for that to happen he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team are going to have be on top of their game the remaining eight races in the playoffs.
Johnson had an excellent chance in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to contend for the win or at least come away with a top-five but saw those hopes dashed with a late-race miscue on pit road.
“We had a lug nut pop off when they went to index the wheel, so it was a longer pit stop than we had hoped for and fell from fifth to 15th or something, and just kind of finished there,” said Johnson, who finished 14th in the race.
Johnson is seventh in the series standings. The lowest four (of 16) playoff drivers in points without a win after next weekend’s race at Dover, Del., will be eliminated from title contention.
“It’s frustrating for sure, but in the big picture we got some Stage points. Some of our competitors had trouble,” Johnson said. “We’ve definitely got to clean things up moving forward to advance through these rounds.”
Johnson is by no means in trouble. He began his quest for title No. 7 last season with finishes of 12th and eighth at Chicagoland and New Hampshire. This year, he’s finished eighth and 14th, respectively.
Johnson didn’t really kick his title drive into high gear last season until the fourth race of the playoffs, when he won at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Running up front on Sunday, though, was a fast improvement over his team’s struggles during the summer months when he went he finished 27th or worse in four of a five-race stretch.
“It’s been a frustrating summer, obviously. I think maybe we’ve just been swinging too hard at times and making not ideal situations that much worse,” Johnson said. “And the last three or four weeks, we just settled in and got what we could.
“Today we lost some points on the table, which isn’t fun, but the last couple of weeks I think we finished where we ran. And from there, we’ll start learning. I don’t think we’re going to learn huge chunks, but we’re directionally correct.
“These fast cars keep having trouble and I feel like maybe there are some opportunities if we’re sitting in the right position.”
Which is exactly what happened last season.