By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
For Jimmie Johnson to be able to keep his hopes of an eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship alive, he’ll have to make it through Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas to do so. One may think that shouldn’t be too tough a task for the No. 48 team, but with only seven points separating him from the cut-off line, anything could happen by the time the checkered flag falls on the Hollywood Casino 400.
The Round of 12 got off to a decent start for Johnson at Charlotte with a top-10, but after getting caught up in a crash at Talladega last week, his playoff hopes took a dive, along with many others in the garage area. Despite the setback, Johnson and his team are still focused on making it into the playoff semi-finals after Sunday’s race.
“It’s a tough position to be in,” Johnson said. “During the week it’s easy to get frustrated at the start of the week reliving what happened. But, we are a team and a group that thrives on adversity. Whenever we have been backed into a corner we have always stepped up and have delivered. All the members of this No. 48 team love a challenge and we are not even close to losing that desire and that fight to be out there and compete and race for the win and race for the championship.
“Depending on the moment in time, sure, frustration, pressure, stress, all those things run through us, but that is part of pro sports. The position I’m in, chasing my eighth championship and the desire I have to be competitive week in and week out and be part of that final four the same for my team, it’s as high as it’s ever been. We really want to be there. It’s been a tough year in some respects. The speed department has been a little tough on us. I think we have been frustrated through the summer months and that yielded poor results and we really seem to be on the right track here the last few weeks and running competitive and collecting points, which is important.”
In May’s Kansas race, Johnson started back in 29th, but drove his way to sixth before a pit road penalty dropped him back down the running order. It took him until five laps to go to break into the top-five, but contact with another car caused Johnson to spin, leaving him with a 24th place finish.
Though Johnson hasn’t won a race since Dover in early June and stumbled in the first Kansas race this year, he remains confident that he can get the job done when it matters the most, given his record at the track.
In 22 starts, Johnson has three wins (2008, 2011, and 2015), along with nine top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, three poles, 601 laps led, and an average finish of 9.6. He also holds the best driver rating at Kansas among all active drivers.
“Coming here, this has been a great track for us,” Johnson said. “We have had a ton of speed here. I think back to this spring and how many cars we passed through the course of the day. We will have a great performance here and we are going to need to have a great day. It would be great to get back to Victory Lane and get that momentum going in the right direction, but more than anything we want to make sure that we advance and get to that next round of eight.”