Johnson looking to break streak Sunday at BMS

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 14, 2018 at 4:20 PM

BRISTOL—Jimmie Johnson comes into Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as defending race champion, but also mired in the longest winless streak of his career — now up to 30 races.

The seven-time NASCAR champion has 83 Monster Energy Cup Series wins and there has been only one season in the past 10 years when he's had less than two wins. So he understands why the winless streak is a big deal, but believes some are making too much out of his struggles.

"It's definitely the story. We have high expectations for ourselves, first and foremost,” he said, “and we think that we should be in a position to win races every year and compete for race wins each weekend. So I think within that there's a lot of fair questions being asked, but I think there is overreaction by fans and media on that last upper percentile of it, especially on social media and the things that they have to say. People underestimate how tough this garage area is. Most of it is fair, but some of it is unfair."

If Johnson can break the winless streak, which will be extra difficult with him starting at the back of the field, he would be tied for fourth on NASCAR's all-time win list with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. If it came Sunday at Bristol, it would also be a milestone 250th win for Hendrick Motorsports. Currently tied with his boyhood hero, Cale Yarborough, with 83 wins, Johnson was in the middle of a workout preparing for this weekend when he said he thought about what it would mean to tie the next pair of drivers.

"I was thinking about this on my bike ride yesterday, of just how special it is to be in this position and how awesome Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip were in their day — and how much they mean to this sport," said Johnson, who got the milestone 200th win for Hendrick in 2012. "Where I sit is just an unbelievable mark in its own. And I certainly hope to move past that and move on, but time will tell. For Hendrick Motorsports, it's very similar but I think on a larger scale."

For now, Johnson is looking to get the performance turned around. It has been different this season with the communication within the team. There are no longer other veterans like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne or Mark Martin to compare notes with. The two-time winner of the Food City 500 is now working with Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron, who combine for less than six years of Cup Series experience.

"I certainly miss the camaraderie and friendships and history I've had with the other veteran teammates,” Johnson said. “When Jeff Gordon thought his car was perfect, I knew I needed two or three changes to get my car to where I loved it. Same with Dale and Kasey and so on. That part I am developing and trying to get my arms around and it's going well. But I've just been really amazed with the sense of feel that my three teammates have with their race cars and can describe that.

"I've looked at William and how young he is. I don't know if I would be that calm in the car to sense those minor details and be able to articulate that to the team. I do miss my friends and do miss aspects of the work process like I mentioned, but these guys are doing a great job."

If his struggles aren't the result of being paired with his younger teammates, are they the fault of Chevrolet, which has only one win this season. And it came at the restrictor-plate track at Daytona when Austin Dillon bumped Aric Almirola out of the way on the final lap.

While Johnson doesn't blame Chevrolet, he does believes it has taken some time to adjust to the switch from the SS model to Camaro.

"It would be unfair to say that it's a manufacturer's fault and responsibility. I think there is responsibility in all areas," he said. "The product has changed. We're in different cars; tires change … what other teams do, there's just a lot going on. But no means am I content with where I'm at and where this team is at in our performances.

"We are literally working around the clock and doing anything and everything we can. So at some point you have to say, we're all in. We just need time. We'll get there. We need more from everywhere right now is our approach."

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