Heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) Jimmie Johnson is riding a 50 race winless streak. That’s the longest he’s ever gone in his 17 year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career without reaching victory lane. But, maybe this is the weekend that his drought ends.
Yes, I’m saying that Johnson, a driver without a top five finish since May 27 can get a win on Saturday night at the Richmond Raceway. I mean, he’s a seven time series champion and 83 race winner. He’s also led 18,692 laps during his storied career. It’s not like he’s forgotten how to drive.
The speed was coming to him before he started struggling in practice on Friday.
Johnson, showed a lot of it in his No. 48 Chevrolet last weekend in Las Vegas. He was on his way towards a top five finish, if not a top 10 at the very least. Unfortunately, he caught some damage in the closing laps and had to pit for a tire that went down. He’d finish 22nd as a result. But, unlike his other finishes outside of the top 10 this year, Johnson’s car had way more speed in it than his result showed.
Hendrick Motorsports in general did in fact.
At one point, it looked like three of the four would finish inside of the top 10. Then the final half of the race happened. Johnson and Alex Bowman were involved in the same late race incident to go along with Bowman having his day derailed at the end of the second stage for an uncontrolled tire penalty. Chase Elliott and William Byron were involved in crashes themselves as well.
The overall Vegas results don’t show how much speed HMS really had. Now, can that translate over to this weekend?
Johnson, has just one top 10 finish over the last seven races and only two since the June Michigan race.
He finished sixth at Richmond back in April. It was his eighth straight top 11 finish on the .75-mile track. He’s also a three time winner on the Virginia short track, all of which coming in 2007 and 2008. Elliott, finished runner-up back in April while Byron was 12th to give HMS three drivers in the top 12.
Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t have the speed in his car on Friday. He was only 25th and 27th respectively in practice on single lap runs and 11th and 19th on 10 lap averages.
With all of that being said, with a ROVAL coming up next weekend, Johnson needs to capitalize now.
It’s no secret, Johnson needs to stop this downward spiral. He’s only led 29 laps all season. That ranks last among the four Hendrick drivers and also behind drivers like Michael McDowell and Kasey Kahne. That’s coming off of having just 217 laps led in 2017. By comparison, in an 11 year span from 2004 through 2014, Johnson led over 1,000 laps in nine of those seasons. Since?
He’s led 558, 737, 217 and 29 laps led for the years respectively.
More speed on Saturday could quickly turn this thing around in the right direction and that would make him a dangerous contender for the remainder of the season.