Johnson: Midseason move key to season

Jimmie Johnson’s 2019 paint scheme for the May 26th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson says he’s a patient person, but he admits it’s getting tougher as the weeks roll on and the months begin to stack up and when you stop to catch your breath you suddenly realize an entire third of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has come and gone.

“Over my career I’ve been able to … just let things work themselves out,” Johnson, 43, said Tuesday during a paint scheme unveil of his No. 48 Chevrolet for the May 26th Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“There are two factors leading to my impatience now. One is I haven’t won in a couple of years and two is, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in a couple of years. My contract’s up in 2020 and I’ll have to evaluate what I want to do after that.”

It’s an honest conversation but an unusual one just the same.

The backdrop behind Johnson is impressive and when you look over his shoulder you see his name again and again and again.

Listed on the wall inside the Hendrick Motorsports team center are the races and winner’s names of every HMS points victory in NASCAR’s Cup Series. All 253 of them.

Legendary races at legendary tracks are separated from the others. The Daytona 500, Darlington’s Southern 500, Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 and The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Eighty-three of the victories belong to the El Cajon, Calif., native, including a dozen of those “crown jewel” races.

But we’re not taking about NASCAR’s grand slam at the moment. We’re talking about last Saturday night’s race at Kansas. And not winning. And why Johnson isn’t and what he and his team are doing about it.

The season is hustling by and the sport’s only active seven-time champion finished sixth at Kanas just days ago. It’s been 71 races since his last victory.

For much of his career, a sixth-place finish would hardly seem noteworthy for Johnson. But the fact that it’s his second-best result of the 12 races run thus far says much.

“It’s flying by quick and we haven’t been in contention to win a race yet this year,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that.

“If I’m not in contention to win a race, there’s no chance of winning a championship. For me, right now this middle portion of the season is the key for me to get things where they need to be so we can win races and ultimately win a championship.”

His Hendrick teammates are making headway and garnering attention – Chase Elliott won at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last month to secure a spot in the playoffs and Alex Bowman is riding a career-best string of three consecutive runner-up finishes.

Meanwhile Johnson and William Byron have shown some improvement but less speed and consistency.

As for Kansas, Johnson said his team knew as soon as the No. 48 was unloaded “that we were down on speed to our teammates.”

“We made some (decisions) to race better and try not to pay attention about single-car speed a lot like you would see at a restrictor-plate track,” he said.

“So Friday we’re trying not to overreact, we’re just hoping that it would race better. Then when I got in the race, the first half of the race was so bad for us, I was like ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ We didn’t have the raw speed and didn’t have the better car in traffic.

“I have to give Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) a ton of credit. Once (I voiced) my displeasure in the car, he made some killer decisions. Our pit stops were awesome on pit road, those guys rallied around, we had a great second half of the race and finished sixth.

“We know what’s making speed within our company. We just need to figure out how to put those pieces into our car … with our philosophy.”

Johnson will be going after a fifth win in the Cup series all-star race, slated for Saturday night at CMS, as well as fifth win in the 600.

“Winning on either weekend would be really special and significant for us on the 48 car,” he said. “My All-Star wins mean a ton to me and obviously that big cash prize that’s out there (the winner’s purse is $1 million) is very tempting.

“The 600 is such a test of driver and machine, strategy … the challenge we have to face I guess ultimately in the 600 is just insane. Those victories mean a ton to me. It’s hard to believe I’ve won as many as I have.”

As part of the NASCAR Salutes initiative held in conjunction with the race, Johnson will carry the name of Army Sgt. Richard Donlan on his during the Coca-Cola 600.

The announcement was part of Tuesday’s paint scheme reveal for the All-sponsored Chevrolet.

“It’s just such an honor,” Johnson said. “Times like this put it all in perspective. … Our sport just does an amazing job of being active and involved. I’m one of 40 lucky drivers that get to carry a name on the car and to honor that fallen soldier.”

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