LAS VEGAS – Despite a regular season that didn’t live up to the standard that the No. 48 team has set for itself, Jimmie Johnson is in the playoffs.
He made it on points, and in the process remained the only driver in the NASCAR Cup Series to have made the playoffs in every year of its existence.
Entering playoff run No. 15, Johnson said he’s hopeful he and the team can “get that magic going.”
“I’ve set a high bar to win since my rookie year, so winning a race seems like something we should be able to do,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, I’d certainly be disappointed. I do know that we have not left anything on the table and poured everything we can into it.”
He acknowledged that the regular season left his disappointed at times, but it hasn’t affected the No. 48 team’s drive to make noise this postseason.
“You’re not human if it doesn’t bother you, and I do know that I have a role in the performance of this car and a leadership role in the team,” he said. “I’m just trying to pull it back in and not get ahead of myself in some respects. Just execute at a high level, which I know how to do.”
As the 10-race playoffs begin this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson is 15th in the standings.
The first round consists of Las Vegas, Richmond Raceway and then a trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway to take on the ROVAL for the very first time, after which four drivers will be eliminated.
“It seems like a tougher round for me,” Johnson said. “Richmond has not been my best track over the years and the ROVAL is such an unknown. All I have from the ROVAL is our test session. We had a really good test there – maybe there’s a chance for us to get a win there. Chase (Elliott) got his win on a road course, so that should apply.”
He’s eyeing a fast start in the round, as the No. 48 team has seen its fair share of success at Las Vegas. Johnson’s four wins there are the most of any other active driver, and he is also the all-time wins leader on 1.5-mile tracks – a category into which Las Vegas fits.
As the seven-time NASAR Cup Series champion looks to put together another run toward a title, he knows he’ll begin that stretch a bit under the radar.
“I’m not expecting anybody to say, ‘Oh, poor Jimmie Johnson,’” he said. “But I would ask people not to think that I’ve had enough and am ready to throw in the towel or that I don’t care or don’t want it. That’s just unfair. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m the opposite.”
At Las Vegas media day, the driver was asked whether he had watched the most recent Sunday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
In it, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured in the first half, but returned in the second half to lead his team to an improbable comeback victory.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 said he watched the game and was inspired by the performance, drawing some similarities to his own situation.
“It is so inspirational to see that happen, and I’ve been able to live through and create a few of those moments on my own,” he said. “It’s amazing to experience it and when you reflect back you’re like, ‘Wow, I really did that.’ You want to believe you’re capable of it, but until you do it and see it, you just don’t know. I know what we’re capable of and I know we’ve done the unthinkable in the past. To win this eighth championship, we’re going to have to do something that’s never been done before, so I have optimism and belief that we’ll have another look at an eighth championship.”
“I don’t expect it to come easy; no championship does.”