ADAM ALEXANDER: You know, if you were to look at Jimmie Johnson‘s history at Texas, you would think that was the perfect place for driver 48 to get the ship going in the right direction. After all, the most recent of his seven wins there came earlier this season. It wasn’t to be. The defending champ finished 27th. His worst effort on the mile and a half since 2009.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Car that wasn’t handling right, and then we kept making mistakes through the course of the day and I just didn’t want to spin out like I did at Kansas. I had a very similar balance in the car and just told myself, I can’t do that. The Kansas in here corner entry’s just been really bad, I can’t– I’ve got to let off so soon, it let’s people get to my bumper and make my condition even worse. And then when I do there’s fastest some when I chase up two or three lanes or I spin out twice like I did in Kansas. I wasn’t going to push my luck here.
ADAM ALEXANDER: – We love Chad, we love Jimmie, but that was hard to watch. And they’ve had a lot of struggles throughout the playoffs.
So, Larry, gut feeling, do they have what it takes to go win and advance at Phoenix? Because that’s what they’re going to need to do.
LARRY McREYNOLDS: I don’t think they have it, Adam. It just seems like with the 48 car and Jimmie Johnson this year it’s just always something. And not necessarily in the race, it’s just, go back to Friday and practice. The fuel pump and the fuel cell issue, three laps of practice, they did qualify [INAUDIBLE]. Go back to Martinsville. Spun out qualifying. It’s like it’s just always something plaguing them throughout the race weekend.
ADAM ALEXANDER: We’re focusing on this Playoff run in 2017 and handicapping, can they go to Miami or not. But let’s face it. The problems for the 48 team’s way bigger than are they going to have a chance to run for that eighth championship. What do they need to do to get all this cleaned up?
LARRY McREYNOLDS: Well, one thing, help is on the way for the entire Chevrolet camp. We’ve got this 2018 Chevrolet Camaro, I think that’s going to be a good car across the board. But, yeah, that’s the thing, Adam, regardless of where they go as far as Miami-Homestead, they just need to get everything cleaned up where at least they can feel like that they’ve got their arms around something to start the 2018 season. What a difference a year makes. One season ago, tying Richard Petty and Dale Sr. As the only drivers to win seven titles and this year are going to come up short on even making it to the Championship 4 it looks like.
LARRY McREYNOLDS: I know they won three races early in the season, but I just get a feeling that for one reason or another, they have never got their arms around this arrow package. In fact, it– the race on Sunday at Texas, he said the car felt like it did at Kansas. I felt like any lap I was going to spin out my own, they just– they’ve never got their arms around this arrow package.
ADAM ALEXANDER: Two races to go in 2017 this 48 team. They might be glad when it’s all over, Shannon.
SHANNON: Yes, indeed, Adam. So things didn’t start great for Jimmie’s teammate, Chase Elliott trying to rebound from that Martinsville loss. This week it was pre-qualifying inspection that had them singing the blues. Did not pass, did not qualify. You know what that means. To the back of the field you go. But Chase was able to make his way through the field pretty quickly. 34th, and then you see just at the Stage 1 Finish, he was already just outside the Top 10 into the Top 5 by the end of Stage 2. Led a lap but still said the day was disappointing.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Not a very good race for us. We just kind of struggled all day. Never really could get a bounce and we’ll have to win Phoenix to move on.
SHANNON: Bigger surprise. The fact that Jimmie Johnson is potentially not going to be in the Championship 4 or the fact that Hendrick Motorsports in general will not have a car in that top, or potentially.
LARRY McREYNOLDS: Yeah, to me one of the biggest stories of 2017 is the lack of performance of that 48 car. I know they won three races early but 21 races since that last win, only one top 5 finish. But here’s the other biggest surprise. Unless Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson could pull a rabbit out of the hat at Phoenix, this will be the first time since 2003, the year before the playoffs, that Chevrolet will not have a representative in the championship race.
SHANNON: Either a rabbit or a Golden Horseshoe, right? One or the other?
LARRY McREYNOLDS: They need the Golden Horseshoe right now.
ADAM ALEXANDER: It’s going to take something because the mountain’s straight up and down. Hey.
LARRY McREYNOLDS: And this is the fourth year in this format, right? Only two times has a Hendrick driver made it down to the championship race. Jeff Gordon in 2015. Of course, Jimmie Johnson, who won it last year, and it doesn’t appear to have a representative this year. That’s pretty unbelievable when you process it, A.J.
A.J.: When I really just kind of– if you take the 48 team the way that these last two races have played out, we thought Martinsville, he’d be really strong, really struggled all day. And then Texas, the race that he won in the spring, and they showed up and just really never had any speed throughout the course of the weekend. You know, obviously Chase Elliott had a shot last week and got wrecked going for the win but, you know, the 24 course had probably the most speed out of the whole Hendrick stable throughout the course of the year. But, I mean, honestly, they’re going to have to go to Phoenix and make something happen. Because the only way they’re getting in is winning a race.
ADAM ALEXANDER: Yeah, if Chase could have just got a top five at Martinsville, along with his Top 10 yesterday, then just a good solid run at Phoenix with some stage points, we could be talking about him being the driver to point his way to the Championship 4.