DARLINGTON, S.C. – Summer slumps have become such a dominant narrative for Jimmie Johnson, the downturn in results doesn’t mean a downbeat attitude for the seven-time series champion.
So despite two top 10s in 11 starts (both 10ths, at Michigan and New Hampshire) since his June 4 victory at Dover International Speedway, Johnson is confident the No. 48 Chevrolet will kick into gear when the playoffs begin in two weeks at Chicagoland Speedway.
But it doesn’t make him any less befuddled about why the No. 48 Chevrolet always seems to run coldest when the weather is hottest.
“I wish I knew why summers were so hard on us,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday before practice at Darlington Raceway, where he has three wins but finishes of 19th and 33rd in the past two Southern 500s. “Believe me, we sit down every winter and look at the summer stretch and think, ‘How can we turn it around? How can we avoid that summer slump?’ But most years, damn it, it shows up, and it is so frustrating.
“So I think it just shows how hard it is to stay on top. I think all teams have lulls in the season, and we’ve been able to typically start well and end well, and that’s served us really good over the years.”
Last year, Johnson’s tailspin was slightly less acute. He had three top 10s (with a best of third at Indianapolis) over the summer but then led a race-high 118 of 270 laps in the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, kicking off a march to a seventh championship with three wins in the final seven races.
En route to his sixth championship in 2013, Johnson finished outside the top 25 in four consecutive races entering the playoffs and then notched top fives in seven of the final 10 races (with only one finish outside the top 10, a 13th at Talladega Superspeedway)
“There’s probably seven or eight years that feel a lot like (2017),” said Johnson, who currently would start the playoffs with 16 points after wins at Texas, Bristol and Dover and a stage win at Sonoma. “It’s not just last year. We have some decent races in the summer, but more bad ones than good ones.”
At least two could have been very good this season: Johnson was racing for the lead with a lap remaining at the Brickyard when he crashed as his engine began leaking oil. Two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway, he smacked the wall late in the race and ruined a shot at the top five.
“There are some moments that could have changed the conversation already that haven’t,” he said. “But I know those final 10 races, at least nine of them are amazing tracks for me. We always bank on that.
With his title-clinching win at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season, Johnson has won at all but Chicagoland Speedway among the final 10 tracks, which include his four winningest ovals on the circuit.
Of his 83 career wins, Johnson has a combined 35 wins at Dover (11), Martinsville (nine), Charlotte (eight) and Texas (seven). His worst playoff track is Talladega Superspeedway, where he has an average finish of 17th.