Jimmie Johnson says annual slump is irksome but not worrisome

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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.

 

Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

New Hampshire Cup race underway after rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is underway after a three hour and 24 minute rain delay.

The race had been scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The green flag waved at 4:24 p.m. ET

Kurt Busch started from the pole and Martin Truex Jr. started second.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.