What do Homestead-Miami, Watkins Glen, Kentucky and Chicagoland have in common?
They’re the remaining NASCAR tracks where six-time champion Jimmie Johnson has yet to win. The number was reduced to those four in June, when Johnson finally won after 25 attempts at Michigan International Speedway, where the Sprint Cup Series returns Sunday for the Pure Michigan 400.
“Although we’ve only won here once, it’s been a strong track for the No. 48 and there’s a lot of room (here),” said Johnson, who will start 30th Sunday. “I think I can get out of harm’s way and get this (car) to victory lane.”
Johnson’s right, he has generally raced well at the 2-mile track in Michigan’s Irish Hills. Prior to his victory in June, he had four top-five finishes. And although he’s never won the August event, he’s led 544 laps over the last nine seasons, best on the circuit.
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So Johnson is hopeful the form he usually has at Michigan returns Sunday to help him snap a six-race slump that has dropped him to seventh in the Cup points standings.
Since a seven-race stretch that saw Johnson win three times (Charlotte, Dover and Michigan) and finish in the top 10 four more, Johnson has struggled.
His finishes since a 10th at Kentucky in June were 42nd at Daytona (wreck), 42nd at New Hampshire (wreck), 14th at Indianapolis, 39th at Pocono (accident) and 28th at Watkins Glen.
“In most circumstances you make your own luck,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you’re unlucky and somebody else’s mistake catches you up. I was part of that last weekend in a restart at Watkins Glen.
“But some of the other stuff, we can probably trace it back and say it’s self-inflicted. We’re trying not to make excuses or asking for sympathy from anybody.”
But Johnson knows what’s really important is how he’s performing this time of year. With his three victories, he’s locked into the Chase, which begins at Chicagoland four races from now on Sept. 14.
“Fortunately we’re in the Chase era,” he said. “We’re sitting in a great position for the seeding process and hopefully get another win or two and come in as the top seed.”
Johnson has time to correct things by the time the Chase begins. But he’s not overly concerned about that. In 2013, Johnson had an average of 36th in the final four races before the Chase. He went on to win his sixth title. Conversely, he won the final two races of the regular season in 2007 and 2008 at Fontana and Richmond on his way to his second and third titles.
“It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen, we’ve won championships that way, too. We’re taking it as it comes, but it’s been a challenging year. We started off without the speed we wanted. We got the speed back and then the luck left. We choose to look at it as we’re getting all this out of the way so we can have 10 great races (in the Chase). Hopefully it happens that way.”