Challenging Season for Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

“I don’t know if this year versus maybe like 2015; that was a tough one on us as well with that rules package and trying to get speed out of our cars. So, I’d say between ’15 and ’17, those have probably been the two most challenging years in my career at the Cup level.” (Photo: Getty Images)

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Jimmie Johnson admits the 2017 campaign has been one of the most trying in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

The seven-time series champion remains alive in his quest for a record-breaking eighth title but barely. Johnson comes into Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway last in the playoff standings and realistically needs to win in order to advance to next week’s Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It’s not out of the question given Johnson’s superb record at Phoenix including four career trips to Victory Lane. However as the Hendrick Motorsports drivers admits, 2017 has been anything but typical.

“It’s definitely high on the list,” Johnson said Friday at Phoenix when asked about this year’s level of frustration. “I don’t know if this year versus maybe like 2015; that was a tough one on us as well with that rules package and trying to get speed out of our cars. So, I’d say between ’15 and ’17, those have probably been the two most challenging years in my career at the Cup level.”

While acknowledging the year’s disappointments, as season which by the way does include three victories and a playoff berth, Johnson doesn’t completely understand what’s caused the challenges.

“Well, I’m a part of this team, so everybody has in the game and the performance of the car,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day chasing speed is really the culprit. And I feel that next year we’ll be in a much better position with the Camaro body on the race car. So, you start making decisions late spring and early summer, trying to extract speed out of the cars. And that doesn’t always make them comfortable to drive. 

“So, it’s hard to say it’s just one thing, but the start of the process is just trying to make our cars faster. And, at times we’ve not made the best decisions and have made them very hard to drive. I think Texas was an example of that and also Kansas. We spun twice there. So, it’s just trying to make the cars faster.”

Johnson does not plan to go down without a fight. But even if he does fail to reach Miami to run for the title, he’s confident in the team around him and what lies ahead at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Yeah, I started this with (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and I want to finish it with him,” he said. “Outside of something crazy happening. Crew chiefs live in dog years versus drivers. I think he’s made that known that his time might expire before mine does, just because of the wear and tear of being a crew chief. I love our entire team and all that it’s made of. Every individual on that team, all the engineers and mechanics, we just haven’t been making the right decisions and going in the right direction. It’s not an individual’s problem. We’re all a part of this team and we’re all a part of the decision-making process. 

“Hopefully we make the right decisions today and then next weekend; and then over the off-season there’s a lot of change coming for the Chevrolets. The Camaro is going to be a huge help. So, we’ll take a deep breath once the off-season hits and then look forward to getting started next year.”
 
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" will have live coverage of Sunday's Can-Am 500, beginning at 1:30 p.m. (ET) - with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.  

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