By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team, but the seven-time champion was able to rebound to a 12th place finish.
After qualifying 14th, pre-race inspection issues, which saw the team fail inspection three times, led to the ejection of car chief Jesse Saunders and forced Johnson to start the race at the back of the field.
“I’ve never been in this situation,” Johnson said. “Last weekend, there were some teams that had the same thing take place and they still had good finishes, so any race team out here is bigger than one person. Although I guess Jesse’s not going to be with us today, we have a lot of people who are very talented and ready to get going and fill in the void.”
By lap 33, Johnson found himself getting lapped by leader Kevin Harvick, putting him even further behind the eight-ball than he already was.
Johnson was able to keep himself from going another lap down as the race progressed and on lap 184, he received the free pass, putting himself back on the lead lap.
Over the remaining laps, Johnson climbed up the leaderboard to 12th, where he would remain for the duration of the race. With seven laps to go, he fell off the lead lap again, but it wouldn’t affect his place in the running order when the checkered flag flew.
“That first set of tires, those scuffs we were on were just really off for our car. I don’t know what went on there. We just put tires on for the second run and had a lot more pace in the car and a lot easier to drive and then we just kept chipping away at it all day long. The last restart we had to start at the tail end. I wish we would have had a chance to start up in there with everybody. I think we could have been up inside of the top 10.
“There is a piece of performance that is familiar from last year, so I think we have some work to do ourselves underneath the body with the chassis and the set-up of the car. But, today I was in a lot of different aero situations that at first, I was flinching in and then I grew very comfortable with and kept charging and driving through. I think the body is definitely helping the car, we’ve just got some other stuff to sort out to go along with it and kind of find the sweet spot for the car too.”
While not a top-10, Sunday’s finish is his best of the season and finishing where they did has to be chalked up as a small victory for Johnson and his team going forward after finishes of 38th and 27th to start the year. After the race on Twitter, Johnson seemed to agree.
We over came some 💩 today. 🤙
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) March 5, 2018
Johnson now heads to Phoenix ranked 29th in points, with a lot of ground to make up as the season continues to play out.