Winless Johnson: 'It's not time yet to be worried'
March 22, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
FONTANA, Calif. -- Jimmie Johnson smiled and offered polite reassurance to fans and media who may be getting antsy all because the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion hasn't won yet in 2014 -- four races into the schedule.
"It's not even close to time yet (to be worried)," a good-natured Johnson told reporters Friday at Auto Club Speedway, where the six-time Cup champ is an all-time best five-time winner.
Johnson, who will start his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet third in Sunday’s Auto Club 400, may not have a win, but he has certainly been a factor in every race. The Hendrick Motorsports driver reeled off three top-six finishes in the first three events, then led 44 laps last week at Bristol, Tenn., before a tire problem ruined his day, resulting in a 19th-place finish.
"It would be great to get the win and get ourselves locked into the Chase," Johnson said. "But I think we are in a good spot and we've been very competitive. We have had a shot to win a couple races. All in all things are well and we will hopefully get a win before long."
Johnson said he personally -- as well as the team -- spoke with Goodyear representatives about the tire situation at Bristol.
"We had a great conversation about the wear on the tire and what potentially could have happened," Johnson said. "From a team standpoint we are still very adamant that the wear on the tire was not the issue. We are very confident and the tire was still intact. Just a half inch strip came unwound from the inside corner of the tire and it was some 60 feet long.
"We just try to learn from it and try to give them the tire and all the information we can so they can make a better product."
Johnson comes to his home state fifth in the points standings. And he was adamant this week that points will still matter in setting the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, despite a tweak in the format rewarding race-winners with a berth in the playoff field.
His Hendrick Motorsports team seems to have a handle on things.
"I absolutely care about points," Johnson said. "I think it's a pretty rare situation to have 16 different winners in 26 races. There will be people transferring into the Chase based on points."
Johnson said the team will have a better assessment on the 2014 program after this week's race on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway. By then teams will have raced on the short track Bristol, the Phoenix one-miler, Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- one of 11 intermediate (1.5-mile) tracks on the schedule -- and Daytona Beach's superspeedway.
"We showed up at four of the five pretty far off, especially off the truck," Johnson explained. "We didn't test as often as we would have liked during the off-season to understand the new rules package and we have been playing a bit of catch-up.
"The next five are going to be real good races for us. If we can come off the truck how we start a race I think we will be in that race-winning window."
And history offers another reason to comfort Johnson and his supporters. He boasts one of the most impressive stats in the garage: winning multiple races in every single one of his 12 previous full-time seasons.
"We have been able to win multiple races a year with a certain mindset. I am not going to chase home runs. I'm looking at a smooth and consistent 26 races and when we get a look at a home run we are going to swing for it. But we are not stepping up to the plate every time trying to hit it out."