When Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet hit a slump in the summer last season, everyone was quick to wonder if the team lost its magic.
A few months later, Johnson was raising his seventh Cup Series championship.
After a few below average results to start 2017, the talks of something being off with Johnson and the No. 48 team has resurfaced.
Johnson sits 16th in the standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Auto Club Speedway, where he’s won a record six times.
The seven-time champion didn’t hold back when asked about people questioning his early season performance at a media availability before practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway.
“Sixteen years, 80 wins, and seven championships and people want to question us? I mean come on,” Johnson said. “You can’t be on top forever. I think that we do have some work to do, especially on the short run. We haven’t executed as cleanly as we need to.
“Daytona, we are running second or third and get crashed, last week we were a good top five, maybe top three car on the long run, but finished with some short restarts that was our weak point. Yeah, sure, absolutely we have work to do, but nobody should panic.”
If anybody is hitting the panic button on Johnson or Hendrick Motorsports, then they’re severely misguided.
It won’t be as easy for Johnson to overcome a few slumps this season because of the new points system but four races where the No. 48 team had speed but didn’t close out with great finishes isn’t a slump.
Wait another month or two and if Johnson hasn’t been to Victory Lane and still sits in the middle of the points standings, then we’ll talk.
The narrative on Johnson’s season could quickly change if he gets his seventh Auto club win this weekend.
The California native won his first career race in Fontana in 2002 and a Hollywood movie wouldn’t have done justice to Johnson’s reality of that first win.
“If any driver could script their first win and the circumstances I think they would choose a path similar to what I went through,” Johnson said, reflecting on his first Cup Series win. “It was my 13th start ever in the Cup Series, 10th start of that season, running my home track. You just couldn’t script it any better and when I look back, I’m still amazed that it turned out that way.
“When I go back mentally to that point in my life, I just wanted to win a race. I’ve said it many times and I’m very serious about this with Jeff (Gordon) winning the championship the year before and they gave me his inventory of cars and equipment, I felt like I had to win. Deep down in my heart I felt like Lowe’s signed up because they felt that I could win. There was this pressure, granted it was early in the year, but standing there climbing out of that car and the minutes that followed that the relief that came off of my shoulders knowing that I could win. And I had only won one Busch race prior to that and all the conversation then was ‘what the heck is Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick thinking? Who is this guy?’ I was very relieved and that triple chin smile is more about the relief of all this pressure that I had put on myself to win and I was able to do it very early at my home track.”