Work Remains For Johnson, Team

Jimmie Johnson

A two-tire pit stop put Jimmie Johnson in position to win but late cautions ruined that strategy. (Photo: Getty Images)

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Crew chief Chad Knaus issued the command after last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, and Jimmie Johnson said the team still had more to do to follow it after Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Souther 500.

As Johnson slowed at the end of the Texas race, Knaus said on the radio: “We’ve got to do a better job on Fridays. That’s what sets us up.’’

Friday, Johnson qualified 26th. He failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying. It made Saturday night’s Southern 500 more challenging. No winner at Darlington Raceway had started so far back since 2003. That streak continued with pole-sitter Kevin Harvick winning.

“We seem to find a way come race time to get a good finish and honestly have a shot to win some races,’’ Johnson said after his third-place finish. “But showing up at the track a little bit closer is key for us. We're really just trying to get a grasp on these rules, and we go home with what we've learned from a previous race, bring a new mousetrap, and unfortunately we've had to continue to work on it each week. Really our goal is to show up closer.’’

Johnson restarted second on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered after crew chief Chad Knaus called for a two-tire pit stop while most of the leaders changed four tires.

“Things were really going our way when we took the two tires and got the restart under control,’’ Johnson said. “Then the caution came out. At that point, I knew that us on two tires were probably in big trouble. (Harvick) worked his way up there.

“We had to gamble to kind of take a shot at getting a win. Chad played it right. We were in the right position but just caught two cautions at the end that kept us from going to Victory Lane.’’

Johnson fell to third before the final caution. He started behind teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the bottom lane and tried to shove Earnhardt into the lead.

“The guys on two tires just couldn’t accelerate,’’ Johnson said. “Junior asked on the radio if I would give him a shove, I said ... ‘no problem,’ so I pushed him as hard as I could down the front and got him by (Harvick) but those four tires got back by.’’

Johnson held on for third, his third top-five finish of the season.

He remains winless, though.

Johnson was leading in the final laps when he had tire issues at Auto Club Speedway and led late at Martinsville Speedway before Kurt Busch passed him for the win.

He’s never gone more than 12 races to open a season without a victory. The eight-race drought to open a season ties for the fourth longest in his career. 

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