Time is running short on Jimmie Johnson’s chances of advancing to the next phase of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, and don’t think he doesn’t know it.
“It is a fading chance, the position I’m in,” said Johnson, who sits in 12th place in the standings and needs a victory at either Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway or next week at Talladega (Ala.) to be guaranteed a spot in the Chase’s next round. Failing that, Johnson will need to work his way into the top four in the standings to advance, a scenario that Johnson is already considering.
“If we can’t (win), we need to focus on finishing as high as we can,” said Johnson, who will start 21st at Charlotte. “The reason that leaves us a little bit of hope is that if you miss the big (accidents) at Talladega, you could assume that some of the ‘Chasers’ will be involved in one or two of those. You might have another chance.”
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Johnson, who won the most recent of his six Cup titles in 2013, has three victories this season. He dropped to 12th in points after an accident led to a 40th place finish last week at Kansas, a race won by Joey Logano.
And although Johnson was the points leader after the Chase’s first round (with finishes of 12th at Chicago, fifth at New Hampshire and third at Dover), he has not led a lap in the past seven races.
“We are just not where we want to be, bottom line,” Johnson said. “We’re working very hard to get there. The sport is not forgiving. What you have accomplished in the past doesn’t buy you a thing in the present. We’ve been a third- to fifth-place car and we can finish there and run there. But we haven’t been a dominant car. (We need to) find that extra 10th (of a second) that puts us in a position to get our mojo going the right way.”
Johnson is not alone this predicament. Two other Hendrick Motorsports drivers – Kasey Kahne (ninth) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th) also need a victory to advance. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski is in 10th place and in danger of seeing his five victories this season go to waste if he doesn’t win at Charlotte or Talladega or move up at least six places in the standings.
Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy wasn’t dialed in for qualifying for Saturday’s race. But Johnson has seven career victories at Charlotte, so that much-needed boost could come Saturday night.
“You just can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “There is no easy route except for Joey Logano now. Whoever wins this weekend, he will have an option to go to Talladega with.”