Apr 28, 2014, 1:08 AM EST
With one-fourth of the 2014 season already in the books, Jimmie Johnson is getting deeper and deeper in a winless hole, but it’s not the deepest he’s been to start a season.
Johnson went the first 11 races of 2003 without winning before cashing in at Charlotte in the 12th race of the season.
He went 10 winless races before winning in the 11th race of 2012 at Darlington.
And he went nine races in 2002 before winning his first of three races that season.
(Coincidentally, Johnson failed to go on to win any of his six Sprint Cup championships in those seasons)
So, there’s precedent for Johnson fans who are growing increasingly worried that the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ still hasn’t visited victory lane in 2014.
It’s easy to understand that concern, given that Johnson finished a season-worst 32nd Saturday at Richmond, finishing four laps down to the leaders and dropping to eighth in the Sprint Cup standings (also a season-low for him).
It’s the second straight poor performance Johnson has had at the .750-mile track at Richmond, having finished 40th there in the final Chase for the Sprint Cup qualifying event last September.
“I really thought we had a decent car and was going to run in the top-five, top 10 at the worst,” said Johnson, a former three-time winner at Richmond. “Then we had one run where we cut a right-front and the next run another right-front.
“I’m not exactly sure why we had that issue, but we did have back-to-back tire issues there. That really just kind of put an end to our night. We didn’t have anything for the win, but I thought we could run top-five.”
Seventeen races remain until the expanded 16-driver field for this season’s revamped Chase format is set. But ever the picture of positive mental attitude, Johnson is not worried about making the Chase, let alone winning a race or two – or more – in the next four-plus months prior to the start of the Chase in mid-September.
“This track has been tough on us so when it happened I was like, ‘alright things like that happen to us here,’” Johnson said of Richmond. “But I know we have some really good race tracks coming up and I’m looking forward to those tracks.
“This Chase and the way you can work your way into the Chase is more forgiving than it has ever been. We might have to count on that this year and make sure we get in the Chase a little later than we want.”
*** By the way, in case you’re wondering, Johnson’s best season starts have been 2010 (won three of the first five races), 2007 (won three of first six) and 2006 (won three of first nine). Not coincidentally, he went on to win championships in each of those seasons.
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