After winning his seventh championship last fall, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire through the first five races of 2017, but this weekend’s trip to Martinsville Speedway could be just what the doctor ordered.
Entering Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville, Johnson has only finished in the top-10 once this season and sits 17th in points. However, Martinsville ranks as one of his best tracks on the circuit, second only to Auto Club Speedway in average finish and Dover International Speedway as far as wins go.
From the first time Johnson raced at Martinsville, he has been a contender, scoring nine of the famous Martinsville grandfather clocks in 30 starts, as well as capturing 19 top-five finishes, 24 top-10 finishes, three poles, a staggering 2838 laps led, and an average finish of 7.3.
Though the stats show that Johnson figured out the treacherous half-mile from the start of his career, the seven-time champion noted that it wasn’t always as easy as it seemed.
“I used to drive up here depressed and not excited to compete here. And then it clicked,” said Johnson. “I think my background, once I figured out how to drive this place has lent me all the success and has really been the backbone to it all. So, looking forward to a great race. Last fall went very well for us here and looking forward to a good race this weekend.”
“For me it took being lapped by Tony Stewart to figure it out and then I followed him and got myself back on the lead lap and had a decent finish. I came here and tested with the No. 24 and had Jeff (Gordon) working diligently with me to figure it out and it didn’t click, looking at the data he would hop in my car and go faster and it was just frustrating and then it finally clicked. It’s one thing to create short run speed, but there are some little things here in the rhythm that could just chew up tires and wear the tires out and make you drop back way too fast. It’s been great because I feel like once you understand how to get around here it’s something that you can keep for a long time, regardless of tire, generation of car, the test of time it really stands up here on this small track more than anywhere.”
Despite the slow start in 2017, Johnson remains optimistic that his team will turn things around starting at Martinsville with the team looking for a 10th grandfather clock to bring home when the checkered flag flies on Sunday.
“Progress line I feel like our cars are in good shape,” said Johnson. “We always want to be better. I think my car and the Hendrick cars, Chase (Elliott) is kind of leading the way when we should be right there with him. I think we have on pace, we just haven’t executed very well. I’ve made mistakes, the team has made mistakes, we’ve had some pit calls not work out in our favor, strategy, pit stops, so we’ve just got to stop making mistakes. That is really where we are at. I think we will have a good run.”
“I think we are right on the edge there of top five, top three car, we’ve just got to stop making mistakes and ring the bell in that area and then work forward and try to ring the bell for winning the race.”