He may not have snapped what is now an 89-race winless streak, the longest of his Cup career, but recent performances show Jimmie Johnson is continuing forward progress.
Johnson finished eighth in Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway, his best finish in the last 12 races (since he came in third at Daytona on July 7).
No one needs to remind Johnson that while he’s the all-time winningest driver (11 wins) at Dover, he hasn’t won there – or any other track – since June 4, 2017.
But Johnson’s performance Sunday continues a recent upward trend that shows promise. In his last four races, Johnson has finished 11th (Las Vegas), 10th (Richmond), ninth (Charlotte Roval) and eighth at Dover.
It marks the first time he’s had three consecutive top-10 finishes this season and the first time he’s had three straight top-10s since the 2016 playoffs, when he had four top-10s in a row, including a win.
“I felt like we had a shot,” Johnson said of Sunday’s race. “When we were in clean air, our lap times were great. Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day.
“But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all. All in all, it was a good day. We ran better than eighth for most of it, but we just couldn’t finish higher.”
Johnson further lamented about the difficulty of passing on Twitter after the race, but still referred to it as a “strong weekend” overall.
Even though he was encouraged by his overall finish, the inability to pass also tempered where Johnson probably could have finished if passing would have been more free.
“No,” he replied when asked if he was satisfied with his showing. “I mean we’re here to win the race and that’s where my heart and mind is. Throughout the day, I felt like we did have pace at times to run for the lead if we could just cycle through all the pit stops to get there.
“Unfortunately, we had some things happen on pit road. I had to avoid cars coming out of stalls and it just set me back. Coming in fourth and coming out ninth, I think the way it all worked out with the pit box location, I lost positions during each pit stop. So, just really tough to recover from that. I’m disappointed there.”
Now it’s just a matter of continuing that forward progress for Johnson. Even though he failed to qualify for this year’s playoffs for the first time in his Cup career, and says next Sunday’s race at Talladega is “its own animal,” Johnson still feels he can make some noise in this season’s remaining races, particularly at Kansas two weeks from now, where he has three career wins.
“I think Kansas, we’re really excited for and feel like we can control our own destiny,” Johnson said. “The high downforce tracks, the Hendrick cars have been more competitive. I know we are all excited to get back to Kansas and build off of what we’ve had the last month or two.
“… In my heart, I know we’re going the right way.”