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Johnson Hopes Summertime Blues Are Over

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 18 2015
Jimmie Johnson said that now that summer is over, he could be ready to do some more champagne spraying. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

Jimmie Johnson says that now that summer is over, he could be ready to pop some more corks. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmie Johnson was given an out during a break in Wednesday’s Sprint Cup Series open test at Kansas Speedway when he was asked his mediocre showings in races the last three months were the result of getting ready for the Chase playoffs.

chase 15 logoThe six-time Cup champ passed, however, on the opportunity to explain away his “swoon” by saying: I meant to do that.

On the contrary, Johnson, who will start Race 1 of the Chase Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway as the top seed, said. It has just been a lousy summer for he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.

Johnson reminded those in the room, however, that the summer is officially over.

The 2015 started with Johnson looking like a solid bet to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as a seven-time Cup champion. He won four of this first 13 starts – at Atlanta, Texas, Kansas and Dover.

In his next 13 starts, he went winless. No, it wasn’t like he totally sucked – there were eight
top-10 finishes and a couple of podiums. But No. 48’s quest for No. 7 looked unbankable.

There is an assumption in NASCAR circles that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have been so successful at winning championship because, in part, they were the first to devise season-long strategies built around the Chase format.

That is, going big-picture. Nailing virtual Chase eligibility as early as possible and then using the remaining non-Chase events as fine-tuning sessions.

Could it be that NASCARdom was witnessing classic Jimmie-Chad strategizing – strategizing adjusted to the elimination Chase format that will be used for the second time this season?

Nope. Just a poor summer on the track. The type of summer which Johnson – who earlier in the week signed a two-year contract extension – and his team kind of anticipate.

“Historically, the summer months are hard on us,” he said. “We hate it. We’ve desperately tried to keep it from happening over the years. We’ve had some success but I’d say the majority of the time, it’s slow summers for us. It’s not fun. It’s frustrating.”

It’s not the heat or primetime reruns that slash away at the No. 48 Chevrolet’s competitiveness, Johnson said. It’s the Cup schedule.

The summer months feature tracks which have been tough on Johnson.

Johnson, by far, has performed best at intermediate tracks. Fifty-six of his 74 victories have come on intermediates and most of them on 1.5-mile ovals. In the summer months, the Cup schedules tend to take a vacation from the 1.5s.

This year, for example, Kentucky was the only 1.5 on the list.

“The tracks we race at in the summer,” Johnson said, “are different, quirky and we just don’t have the statistics at those tracks.”

The 10-race Chase, which begins Sunday at 1.5-mile Chicagoland, features five intermediate tracks. In addition, Dover is in the Chase and that is a Johnson track as well – witness the fact that that miler is site of his last victory.

Hence Johnson’s cool demeanor as he talked about the upcoming playoffs at Kansas – a track where he won in the spring.

“Thankfully for me, the Chase is made up of tracks that really suit my style,” he said.

“I think, in some scenarios, this championship battle (the elimination Chase format) is a bit more forgiving. If we were consistent through the first nine, (we’ll have) a chance to be in the final four. We have 10 more weeks to get our stuff straightened out and find the speed we need.”

If he does, history could be made at the season-ender at Homestead as Johnson joins the elite seven-championships club.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 18 2015
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