Is Jimmie Johnson back or does his team still have a way to go to compete for wins?
It’s a question that will be asked often going into Sunday’s Cup race at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson enters as the track record holder with 11 wins on the 1-mile concrete speedway. If he wins Sunday, some might view it as the team still has the right setup for the track. If Johnson struggles, the questions may grow louder on what’s wrong with the No. 48 team.
How does Johnson view it?
“I think I’m doomed, regardless, right now,’’ he said Friday at Dover. “I mean it doesn’t matter the track or the result unless it’s a win and lots of wins. I think we have created an environment of very high expectations because of the success we’ve had and I think people forget how special our run has been.
“We certainly want to get back to those ways and have it happen again. But history shows it doesn’t happen very often. And we’re very fortunate to harness lightning for a long stretch of time.
“The encouraging news is we are making our cars better each and every week. I’m more of a realist in where we’re at and what we’re doing and reflect back and think damn, we had it really good for a while and it was really special. But we’re a victim of our own success, and I hope to create the headlines that we want and the headlines being along the lines of well, they should have won, it was Dover.”
The team got off to a good start Friday. Johnson was second on the speed chart to Paul Menard in practice.
Johnson’s last Cup win (the 83rd of his career) was at this track last June. He enters this weekend with a 33-race winless streak, the longest in his career.
Johnson has shown progress. He finished third at Bristol, sixth at Richmond and 12th at Talladega in the past three weeks.
As for the team’s struggles, Johnson said:
“We just haven’t had the cars where we need them. And, I’m a part of that process. So, I’m not pointing fingers. I think as a group from everybody at Chevrolet and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and everybody on the No. 48 car and my other three teammates and their teams, we collectively need to do a better job. And we’re working hard on it and we are doing a better job.
“We’re seeing those rewards slowly coming along. I think we have been the benchmark or that high watermark for so many years, that other manufacturers and teams invested a couple of years in figuring out how to beat us. And we’re living through that right now. We’re needing to recreate ourselves and how we go about handling business.”