By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into this month’s 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 17
Career Wins: 83 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Victories, Seven Championships
In 2018, Seven-Time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson is a member of the ‘old guard.’ Johnson is one of the oldest drivers competing on the circuit and is the oldest at Hendrick Motorsports.
2017 was an abnormally ‘off’ year for Johnson. Despite earning three victories, he had just four top-fives and 11 top-10 finishes. That is the fewest number of top-fives and top-10s that Johnson has earned in a single season throughout his entire NASCAR Premier Series career. He ultimately finished 10th in the Championship Points standings. However, the El Cajon, CA native has never gone a season with fewer than two victories.
“We kept hoping every stone we turned over would help us find our problem,” Johnson explained the frustration of 2017. “What was so frustrating is I’ve never worked so hard in my life to get such little return. I know Chad can say the same and the team can. The efforts they put in, just mind-boggling. I’m so happy I have a group of guys to do that, to do anything possible. It just so frustrating when you don’t get anything for it. So that was tough.”
2017 also marked the final season for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports. In addition to two new teammates, Alex Bowman and William Byron, Johnson also has a new car, that has a lot of expectations, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Johnson admitted that the new Chevrolet Model will likely have a break-in period,
“There has to be a break-in period, some buildup for us to understand the car, the aero balance, what we need. We have modeled it unlike anything else in Chevrolet’s history. If you added up the wind tunnel time, the CFD modeling time, everything that’s happened before the 2018 Camaro, it wouldn’t total the time that’s been put in the wind tunnel and modeling to this point.”
“The effort has been massive to get this right and be as good as we can be,” Johnson continued. “But with testing being so minimal, for myself there’s going to be an adaptation period. I need to understand the side force, how hard I can lean on it. You climb out of the gas, with less downforce, how much it slows down. Trying to find the sweet spot with the car, some minor handling characteristics that go with it. Atlanta, it’s such an abrasive track, and the drivers’ style, so many other things play into the performance there, I think we’ll get a flavor of where we sit. Once we get to the West Coast swing, I think that will really tell us where we sit.”
Now Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, and the entire No. 48 Lowe’s team will prepare for the 2018 season and an unprecedented eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.