FORT WORTH, Texas – Sunday may not have snapped Jimmie Johnson’s near-two year winless drought in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.
Johnson led both weekend practice sessions at Texas Motor Speedway, swept all three rounds of knockout qualifying, started on the pole and led 60 laps before ultimately finishing fifth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
It was the most Johnson-like performance out of the seven-time Cup Series champion since his string of three wins in seven races in 2017, the last time the El Cajon, Calif., native graced victory lane.
That left Johnson all smiles and optimistic when he climbed from his No. 48 Ally Financial Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 after 500 miles around the 1.5-mile Lone Star State quad-oval.
“I think this shows that we are definitely moving in the right direction,” Johnson said. “The car was good in clean air and had a lot of speed in it, and I think we have finally found (the) center for our cars and what has to happen. It was a little evil in traffic, and I had a heck of a time on green flag restarts, but these guys worked hard to get it underneath me and tightened the car up a little bit for us to race.
“We ended up having great pace and decent drivability, so we’re working in the right direction,” Johnson continued. “I am just so proud of everybody on this Ally team. We’ve had a lot of pressure on us, and everyone has stepped up and is getting the job done.”
Considering Johnson remains in the midst of a 66-race winless drought, the across-the-board speed he and his team showcased all weekend at Texas was extremely welcomed.
“For me, I was just trying to get a consistent weekend. It is one thing to have one-lap pace – we needed that and we did that on Friday – but then Saturday went really well, too,” Johnson noted. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking we just needed to have a rock-solid day, and if we did that then I could confirm to myself and to everyone else that we are moving in the right direction.
“For the No. 48, No. 24 (William Byron) and the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) to all be so good is promising,” he added. “I’m not sure what happened with the No. 88 (Alex Bowman), but the majority of our cars all ran really strong today, so I feel much better about things.”
Johnson felt that many of his gains came from being able to flat-foot for long periods of time at the Texas oval during the weekend, which led to a lot more drafting on Sunday than in previous intermediate track races.
“It is really wide-open throttle time. If you can be flat in (turns) three and four, as well as (turns) one and two … and if you can be five percent more on the throttle through the corner and carry a mile-an-hour through there more than the next guy, it makes all the difference in the world,” Johnson explained. “With this low horsepower package, I think it puts more in the car’s hands than the driver’s. We don’t have that extra horsepower to get us out of trouble or the throttle control I grew up developing on dirt tracks as a kid. So I think the emphasis is much more on the car with this package.
“With that said, my guys did a great job and brought me a great car.”
Now with some inspiration, Johnson will head forward to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in pursuit of his 84th career Cup Series victory. Johnson is a two-time Thunder Valley winner, most recently in 2017.
“I think we’ve found some really good direction and this is a great learning point for us,” he said. “This is what we’ve been looking for.”