Johnson Not Worried About Slide
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on August 13, 2014 | 11:00 A.M. EST
"There are still a few challenges ahead. But literally, when the Chase starts, we roll into our 10 best tracks." (Photo: Getty Images)
The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion has finished 28th or worse in four of his last five starts, a string that has included performances of two 42nd-place finishes and a 39th.
Johnson latest headaches came in last Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International when he was caught up in one of the day’s several incidents. When the dust had settled after contact with Regan Smith, there was Johnson with a 28th-place finish after qualifying and starting third.
We’ve seen this kind of challenge before from Johnson most recently at the tail end of last year’s regular season. Johnson’s woes then started with a blown engine and a 40th at Michigan and continued with finishes of 36th at Bristol, 28th at Atlanta and 40th at the regular season finale in Richmond.
It’s certainly not something the 48 team sets out to do by any means, but on the other hand there’s a sense of “been there, done that” to get them through the rough patch.
"It’s no secret that the middle portion of the year has always been a challenge for the No. 48," Johnson said earlier this month. "There have been years that we make it through a little smoother than others. This year has been as inconsistent as probably any of them for us."
That inconsistency has one common thread that has plagued Johnson all year – tire issues. While not every bad outing has been caused by problems with tires, the 48 team has had more than its share.
Johnson had a pair of tire-related difficulties at New Hampshire to kick off last month and followed that with two more to begin this month’s schedule at Pocono. Those challenges are in addition to Johnson’s tire difficulties in Bristol back in the spring.
However, not all of Johnson’s struggles have been tire related. Other mechanical issues, crashes and missed set-ups have also contributed to the downward pattern of recent weeks.
Things might start looking up for Johnson as soon as this weekend based on past performance. He returns to Michigan Int’l Speedway for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 fresh from a June victory at the track, his first Cup triumph in the Irish Hills.
Although it wasn’t the case last year, Johnson has also tasted success at the last three stops on the regular season schedule in Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond where he’s combined for seven wins during his career.
Let’s also not forget Johnson’s uncanny ability to perform once the Chase rolls around, which he did again last season even after his late summer swoon to end the first 26 races of the slate.
He began the 2013 championship portion of the season with four top-five finishes in the opening five races including a win at Dover on his way to championship number six.
So you’ll understand if Johnson channels his inner Alfred E. Neuman by not worrying much about his latest batch of scuffling.
"There are still a few challenges ahead," said Johnson. "But literally, when the Chase starts, we roll into our 10 best tracks."
“What, me worry?” indeed.