Amid struggles, another milestone for Johnson

He’s having a tough go of it these days, riding out the longest winless streak of his career, but Jimmie Johnson will reach another milestone Sunday when the Gander Outdoors 400 gets under way at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

Johnson, 42, will make his 600th career start in NASCAR’s top series.

He’ll be the 30th driver to reach that marker, part of the one percent that makes up those drivers with 600 or more career Cup starts.

Eleven of the current 29 are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which isn’t to say that running a lot of races is a requirement for Hall consideration.

Unofficially, drivers making their 600th career start haven’t fared extremely well, so the bar’s not been set too high for the Hendrick Motorsports driver this weekend. The average starting position has been roughly 20th and the average finishing position has been just shy of 18th.

It appears that no driver making his (or her) 600th career start has won the pole – the closest was Bill Elliott who qualified No. 2 for the 2000 DieHard 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. In fact, only one other driver, Richard Petty, started inside the top five. The King lined up third in the ’73 Carolina 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.

No drivers have won while making career start No. 600 either.

Closest in that category appears to be Darrell Waltrip (third in the ’94 Purolator 500 at Atlanta) and Jeff Gordon (also third, in the 2010 LifeLock.com at Chicagoland Speedway).

Dover has been the site of more drivers (five) making their 600th career start than any other track. If you’re wondering, that’s from a list of 18 tracks, three of which no longer host Cup events.

As for Johnson’s winless streak, it has now reached 43 for the driver of the No. 48.

He’s won 83 times, tied for sixth most in the series with Cale Yarborough; one more and he’ll share fifth place with Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

Along with Petty and Dale Earnhardt, he’s one of only three drivers with seven championships.

Jimmie Johnson has made it all look so easy for so long.

Perhaps he will once again.

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