By David Morgan, NASCAR Writer
With one win under his belt in 2016 already, Jimmie Johnson heads into Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix looking to break his winless streak at the desert mile since the track underwent a reconfiguration during the 2011 season.
Johnson tops the board statistically among active drivers when looking at career wide numbers, but the six-time series champion has been absent from victory lane in Phoenix over the past six years. Overall, Johnson has four wins (2007, 2008 sweep, and 2009), as well as 15 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, three poles, 977 laps led, and an average finish of 7.7 in 25 starts. However, when looking at his average finish in the seven races since the track was reconfigured, it drops him from the top of the board all the way to ninth with his average finish plummeting to an average finish of 14.0 in those seven races.
As Johnson has struggled since the repave, he admits that other teams have caught up to his team and passed them in performance at Phoenix, and notes that he will be keeping a keen eye out on a select few who have hit on things over the past five years at the track.
“Since Phoenix was repaved it’s been a tough track for the Lowe’s Racing team. We haven’t won since 2009. I think it has something to do with the asphalt and tire combination. This asphalt is really fast, it’s not abrasive – yet and the tires last forever. I have always struggled on hard tires on repaved tracks but in November we were pretty fast but the weather got in our way. Old worn out tracks, soft tires that wear out, that just fits my style since I’ve ever been in a racecar. Phoenix is slowly evolving,” said Johnson.
“It’s tough. There’s no way around it. I was probably one of the few that was screaming and yelling, don’t change this place, don’t repave it, don’t reconfigure it. I feel like we’ve had some good showings here. But coming to this track, I definitely put that No. 4 car as my number-one pick. I think we’re closing the gap some. The Penske cars usually shine here, so I expect those two to be pretty good. I just heard the tail end of Kevin’s conversation and you start thinking it through and you look at Kyle (Busch) and his success here, which then opens up the JGR cars. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess if I’m forced to, the No. 4 car is the one that we’ll all be paying close attention to.”
Regardless of past performance at Phoenix, Johnson and his No. 48 team are clicking on all cylinders in 2016 with the low downforce package and they should be in the hunt for the win in Sunday’s Good Sam 500. After 312 miles around the treacherous oval, will we see Johnson finally make his first visit to Phoenix victory lane since the repave or will it be more of the same? Only time will tell.
Image: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images