By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – To say that the 2018 season has been a disappointment for Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports would be an understatement, but as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads into Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, Johnson remains hopeful that he can muster up some of his Indianapolis magic from days gone by.
The seven-time series champion is riding a winless streak dating back to June 2016 at Dover, the longest of his career, and sits on the cusp of possibly missing the playoffs for the first time in his career should things not go his way once the green flag flies.
Starting 14th, he could have his work cut out for him, especially without any track time whatsoever this weekend due to the rain.
While the on-track performance is not where he and the team would like it to be, Johnson has had success at Indianapolis in the past, scoring four Brickyard 400 wins (2006, 2008, 2009, and 2012), which doubles the amount of Indianapolis wins of any other driver in the field. In fact, only his mentor, Jeff Gordon, has more wins at the 2.5-mile quad-oval with five.
“I couldn’t even put into words what it would mean and do,” Johnson said of winning on Sunday. “We’ve worked so hard and have had some good moments along the way that could have turned into great moments. 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.
“And, a win is the way to turn it around (laughs). So, we’ve seen this team get hot at times and we’ve been unstoppable. And a win would be the starting point of that. So, I’m very hopeful we can get that done this weekend.”
With only two top-five finishes and eight top-10 finishes to his name in 2018, some might think the No. 48 team is in dire straits, especially given Johnson’s dominance over the years, but the 42-year old California native is not letting this season’s performance get him down.
As he noted in a Saturday media availability, he’s been here before in his career.
“I’ve been here before and in fact, my Busch Series days were probably the toughest that I’ve ever been through,” Johnson added. “It’s not been to that level although it’s pretty close. But, it’s second to it. And, my optimism to turn things around is because I’ll never give up. I just won’t. There are a lot of reasons for that. First and foremost is me and who I am. Secondly, I drive for Hendrick Motorsports. We will figure it out. It might not come at the pace we want it to, but we will figure it out.
“I have to show up every week and have a clear mind and start on a clean sheet of paper. I think carrying anything is bad. And, I have carried stuff from track to track. It’s not been beneficial. So, the best thing I can do for my team is to show up as if I’m in the middle of that five championship stretch and have that swagger and show up ready to roll. And, that’s one of my responsibilities to do each week.
“So, I’m ready. Let’s go.”