Johnson struggles at Texas

John K. Harrelson/NKPPhoto

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

After winning in the spring on the newly repaved and reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was considered a threat to win the AAA Texas 500 but early issues regulated the seven-time champion to a 27th place finish.

Going into the race, Johnson was looking like he would be a contender to win, especially with his ninth place finish. Johnson battled an ill-handling race car for the entire race. In the opening stage, Johnson was just holding on until the stage break. Johnson had to race on the outside of the groove because his car would not run on the white line where all the grip was. In the corners, Johnson was battling loose in and tight off positions.

On lap 55, Johnson pitted for four tires and fuel. Within 13 laps, Johnson returned down pit road for an unscheduled pit stop. Johnson reported a tire rub and a small vibration. Crew chief Chad Knaus wanted Johnson to stay out until the stage break, but he was unable to do so. Before the second stage begun, Knaus told Johnson that he was eight tenths of a second off the leaders.

As the first stage was coming to a conclusion, Johnson radioed to his team that the car was being “darty”. Johnson finished the first stage in the 28th position.

As the second stage began, Johnson continued to battle an ill-handling race car and was in survival mode. Because of the earlier issues, Johnson was two laps down. On lap 131, Kyle Larson put Johnson three laps down. Johnson finished the second stage in the 31st position.

With 16 laps remaining in the race, Johnson went another lap down. Johnson was able to gain four positions in the final stage to finish in the 27th position. This would be a race that Johnson would soon hope to forget.

“We’ve got to figure something out. Kansas was a lot like this. It was just extremely difficult to drive the car and carry entry speed. And then we had a loose wheel and then contact on a restart. We started off in a hole and just kept digging a deeper one as we went. I’m definitely disappointed. And, I honestly just feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is pretty disappointing.”

There were concerns as to why Johnson and his No. 48 team pitted at the end of one of the stages, but Johnson did not question the call because he did not know what the plan was.

“I saw a few cautions came after. The driver usually has such a small vantage point and I didn’t want to say anything and I just didn’t know what was the master plan. It’s easy to look back and to see how quick those cautions came out and I’m sure there was good reason at the time.”

The “Round of 8” was seen as Johnson’s best round to advance into the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the last four races, Johnson has failed to finish in the top-10. His best finish came at Kansas Speedway. After a disappointing finish, Johnson’s focus turns to Phoenix Raceway.

“It’s been a good track for us. But this last half of the year has been really weird.  In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven’t. But I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix and we’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. And that’s one thing this team will never do it give up.”

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