By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
It seems possible that Jimmie Johnson’s slump is ending as he scored a top-10 finish at Auto Club Speedway. It was also the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series top-10 finish since the Charlotte Playoff race last season, 10 races ago. Johnson was up front for much of the Auto Club 400.
Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ran quietly inside the top-10 as the race drew to a close. In the final run to the finish, he was as high as sixth after the final round of pit stops. Over the course of the longest tire-run of the day, Johnson slipped from sixth back to ninth, his best finish of the season.
The run that the senior Hendrick Motorsports driver had was his best of the season to date. Johnson, who got the news earlier this week that the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sponsor he has ever had, Lowe’s Home Improvement, will be departing the team at seasons end, fought hard with Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, and Denny Hamlin for much of the race. Restarting inside the top-five after stage one, Johnson had a big slide that Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and others avoided. It did block the progress of Blaney who got stuck behind Johnson.
“Yeah, each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson explained on his teams’ performance. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now but we are seeing the improvements, we have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better and we are getting more competitive. So, a strong day for the Lowe’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We are not where we want to be but we are getting closer every week.”
Johnson’s journey to the front was unusual for the Seven-Time Premier Series Champion. He started 33rd after he and 12 other drivers failed to pass pre-qualifying inspection in time to make a qualifying attempt. Despite this, Johnson made it not only inside the top-10, but into the top-five by the end of the first stage.
The top-10 finish is the 342nd of Johnson’s career, and came in his 584th career start. It also allowed him to jump from 25th in the Championship Points Standings up to the 18th position. Johnson is now 119-points behind race winner, and points leader Martin Truex, Jr. He is also 18-points behind the Playoff cutoff, currently held by his teammate, Alex Bowman.
Now Johnson will prepare to return to Martinsville Speedway, a track where the 18-year veteran has scored nine victories, for the STP 500 on Sunday, March 25.