Jimmie Johnson ‘doing everything I can’ to improve in chase for seventh title

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Not satisfied with a career where he’s won more championships than all but two drivers in NASCAR history and more races than six drivers, Jimmie Johnson is the first competitor to advance to the Round of 8 in part because of an insatiable desire to improve.

Sunday’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway ended a career-high 24-race winless drought and moved Johnson one step closer to a seventh series title that would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.

That Johnson returned to this level after the summer doldrums Hendrick Motorsports experienced isn’t surprising because Johnson keeps searching for ways to improve.

“I’ve been trying to change what I do and try to learn more about the vehicles and how I can be more useful for the engineers and crew chief,’’ Johnson told NBC Sports after his Charlotte victory. “I’d say the last two to three months, it’s all come together, and I find that things I’m looking at and I feel we can do to improve the car, (are) areas we’re working in, too. I’m learning a lot more about the vehicle. I know some. I know the basics, but really getting deeply involved. We’re along the same lines and thinking about the same stuff now, which is cool.’’

With Jeff Gordon retiring last year, Johnson ascended to the role of senior driver at Hendrick Motorsports. He’s taken that leadership role for an organization with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott.

“I’d say that I feel like the leadership role I’ve been working on, and some months are better than others, it’s really been to unify all four teams and drivers and get all four crew chiefs to really rely on one another and count on one another, and then we’ll go settle it on Sunday,’’ Johnson said.

“The notes have always been there. But if you can describe something with a little more sincerity or detail to help someone really grasp why you’re thinking this way, and why you’re making these decisions about your car.

“The same thing is just sharing the emotional side with my teammates and driver standpoint and try to manage the race, manage emotions, what I’m thinking, how I’m thinking. There’s a lot that goes into that. That’s where we’ve gone next level and needed to. I think we were probably getting beat by it. I think the Gibbs folks have been doing a real nice job on that front. I feel like we’re catching them there now.’’

Johnson has led a series-high 363 laps in the first four Chase races. Hendrick Motorsports has led 555 laps in the Chase — nearly 200 more laps than the next team. Sunday, Johnson won and Kahne was third, marking the first time in 16 races that Hendrick Motorsports placed two cars in the top five.

Part of being a team leader is showing by example. Johnson’s spat of pit road speeding penalties — he has had four since Indianapolis in July — led him to a parking lot across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway to practice driving down pit road.

“I didn’t want to leave a stone unturned,’’ Johnson said. “Practice session is so precious at a racetrack that you can mess with it there, but I just wanted to start over at ground zero and work on pit road speed, look on the screen I look at, understanding how the little light bulbs that light up, what the increments are, how to use them. Made some small changes, lot of it was repetitive. I just couldn’t sit home another week and say I’ve got it. I’ll fix it. I had to do something to convince myself to fix it and show these guys that I’m doing everything I can.’’

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson involved in minor fender bender while leaving Fontana

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Kyle Larson‘s spectacular weekend at Auto Club Speedway — winning both Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Cup event — left him feeling good.

But shortly upon exiting the facility, Larson and several others were involved in a fender-bender right outside the Speedway. Larson was a passenger, not the driver.

No one was injured, Larson tweeted.

But somehow, isn’t that strange fate?

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson’s Fontana win shows continued maturing as a driver

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Kyle Larson finally broke his streak of three straight runner-up finishes with his win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, the crew discussed his win as well as his maturation as a driver.