By Dylan Coyle
WHIP Radio Assistant Sports Director Dylan Coyle reports from Pocono Raceway on the latest in the Gander Outdoors 400 race weekend
It’s been a difficult season for Jimmie Johnson.
With only two top-five finishes throughout the first 20 races, the 42-year-old icon has struggled to battle at the front this season. His last win was over a year ago, and although he holds a decently comfortable place in the points standings, breaking through with a victory this weekend at Pocono would be a huge lift for the 48 Lowe’s for Pros team.
Johnson expects to finish in the top-five on Sunday.
“I think a top-five is in the realistic standpoint,” Johnson told WHIP Radio. “Stage points, but you never know. That’s that optimism that I refuse to lose. I still know I can win these races.”
Whether his misfortunes can be attributed to the struggles of the Chevy Camaro that made its debut this season, the prowess of the “big three” of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr., or a little bit of both and more, he still feels like he has the chance to win.
“It took me a long time to develop the confidence that I was a Cup-winning driver, and that confidence hasn’t wavered,” he told WHIP Radio. “I show up each week thinking that, you know, we have the capability to pull it off and still go to Victory Lane. As you work through the weekend, you kind of re-evaluate where you’re at and what your goals need to be, but sitting here now before we’ve turned a lap, I’m here to win this race.”
Johnson is in very unfamiliar territory. It’s never taken him this long to win a race, but he now has a bigger appreciation for good timing throughout his career.
“This whole journey I’ve been on just shows me how important timing is for any team, driver, crew chief, owner, whatever it might be,” Johnson said. “You know, I was very fortunate to have timing for a large stretch of time. Manufacturer, team, crew chief, driver, all hitting at 10/10s.”
As with any sport that focuses on an individual, it becomes difficult to understand just how important the surrounding cast is to the successes and downfalls of each driver. Johnson is part of arguably the best driver/crew chief combo in NASCAR history with Chad Knaus at the helm, and the recent contract extension for Knaus will allow the duo to continue working together though 2020.
And if there is a team that can work magic when it’s most needed, it’s the one run by Knaus.
“We individualize this sport very often, and it is way more than just one person that makes this whole thing go,” he said. “I’m patiently waiting and hoping that we get the timing back and get all the pieces pushed in the right direction and we can get back to the form that we once had.”
Johnson finished eighth in the June Pocono race. If this is the weekend to work his magic, it will have been long-awaited for.
This article was written, researched, and published by WHIP Radio Assistant Sports Director Dylan Coyle. If you wish to interact with Dylan, you can reach him on Twitter at @DylanRCoyle.
Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images