Lessons learned from Darlington, Jimmie Johnson focused on what’s ahead

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. — It’s quite simple, Jimmie Johnson says.

“We just need to stop making mistakes,’’ said the seven-time champion, who has yet to secure a playoff spot entering Sunday’s regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Last weekend’s 39th-place at Darlington Raceway produced a litany of mistakes. The woes cut Johnson’s lead on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, who holds the final playoff spot, to 19 points.

Johnson and Bowman will make the playoffs if there is a repeat winner Sunday. If there is a new winner, then one of them will be bumped from the playoffs. Johnson is the only driver who has never failed to qualify for the playoffs/chase since the format debuted in 2004.

Johnson’s woes last week included all facets of the team. It started in qualifying. He hit the wall in the second round. With the race an impound event, the team had to start at the back of the 40-car field because the repairs came after qualifying.

Johnson climbed to 14th in the race before he had a loose wheel. He had a commitment line violation on that pit stop and had to return for a penalty. His race later ended after ran oil pump issue.

“There’s plenty of learn,” Johnson said of the Darlington weekend. “First and foremost, I look at myself. The excitement of having a good first round in qualifying, the frustration of having a bad first attempt in the second round led to me running wide in Turn 4. There’s the first mistake. I can learn a lot from that for sure.

“Going into the race, work our way into the top 15 and unfortunately a loose wheel, those things happen, it’s a part of it, a mistake there. I compound the mistake by missing pit road. Here we go again.

“Then the oil pump situation that happened. I think we learned a lot from that to make sure that doesn’t happen to our cars again in the future, especially at that track. So there are plenty of takeaways, plenty of things we learned. Kind of the overarching thing for me is compounding mistakes. People make mistakes, let’s not make a bad situation worse.

“We just need to stop making mistakes. I think I was in a position and drove outside of my means and drove over the 100 percent level because I knew I had such a good car. And I’m so eager to get back to winning and get back to leading laps that I just tried too hard.”

Johnson has two top-10 finishes in the last 11 races. He has gone career-long 48 races since his last Cup victory. When asked Saturday what a win this weekend would mean in what has been a difficult season, he said: “I couldn’t even put it into words.

“We’ve worked so hard and have had some good moments along the way that could have turned into great moments,” he said. “And mistakes on my behalf or the team or whatever it might be; bad luck, misfortune, we’ve just not been able to capitalize on opportunities that have been there. Plus, we’ve had a tough year. So, it’s been extremely frustrating and extremely difficult to live through, but we are all still very eager to turn it around and know that we will.”