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‘Slumps’ Nothing New To Johnson’s Title Runs

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 17 2014

Jimmie Johnson has gone through slumps before. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Seems you couldn’t really be considered a legit reporter or editor this week if you weren’t writing about Jimmie Johnson’s rare slump. The thing is, the kind of “slump” that Johnson is going through in Sprint Cup right now is not rare. Not even close, and not even during his championship seasons.

Johnson will start the race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday having gone five races without a top-10 finish. In three of those races, he’s finished outside the top-30.

Hence, one supposes, the talk of slump and, even more oddly, talk that Johnson will have to wait at least another year to get that historic seventh Cup championship.

But looking backward, it becomes apparently that in most of his championship seasons, Johnson went through “slumps” and periods of “bad luck” before not-so-mysteriously pulling things together at the time that it mattered most.

Take 2006, for example. The year Johnson won the first of his six championships. From Race 22 to Race 31, he had exactly one top-10 finish.

In the final six races of the Chase, he posted podium finishes five times.

The next year, same deal. From Rac 13 to Race 20, he had just two top-10s while at the same time, he had six finishes of 15th or worse.

He went on to win four Chase races and stand on the podium six times.

And so it has gone for Johnson. In every one of his championship seasons, he had gone through “slumps”.

And usually at about this time of the season.

And not all during his five-straight-championship run. Last year, he won the championship despite going with just one top-10 from Race 21 to Race 26. In three of those six races, he was 36th or worse.

On Friday at MIS, Johnson was asked about his current slump and about having a run of bad luck. Six-time didn’t seem to be too bothered by anything.

“Sometimes you’re unlucky and somebody else’s mistake catches you up and I was a part of that last weekend on that restart at Watkins Glen,” he said. “But some of the other stuff, we can probably trace it back and say it’s self-inflicted. We’re not trying to make excuses or asking for sympathy from anybody, but we can’t ignore the results and fortunately we’re in the Chase era, and we’re sitting in a great position for the seeding process and hopefully get another win or two and come in as the top seed. We’re racing the points as they exist and how they are today. It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase. If it doesn’t happen, we’ve won championships that way, too.”

Michigan, despite his victory at the 2-mile oval earlier this year, has not been a Johnson track. His average finish at the place is 16th.

But Johnson knows racing, he knows history, he knows his equipment and he knows his Hendrick Motorsports team. He knows he’s won six championships despite periods of bad luck and lousy finishes.

Hence his continuing to be unfazed by a mid-season “slump”.

“Honestly,” he said, “the post-season really is the post-season. We’ve entered with momentum and without. Either way, you’ve got to leave what happened in the first 26 (races) and shut that door and what happened then, and look at the present. In the past, you had a 10-race program to kind of look at, and now you almost have four categories to look at. So, the game has changed, for sure. But I think where I sit today and how I view the Chase and when it starts is the same even though the format has changed. Those ten tracks in the Chase are really probably nine or ten of my best tracks on the circuit. And if we have a slow run entering, we’ll just deal with it and rely on the team that we’ve built and who we are as individuals in each position and step-up as need be.”

Winning championship No. 7 is in no way assured. But neither is it any less likely today than it was five races ago.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 17 2014
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