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Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson isn’t having a start to the 2018 NASCAR season that lives up to his resume.
The 42-year-old No. 48 Chevrolet driver is currently 35th in the standings and finished outside of the top 25 in the first two races of the season. He wrecked and didn’t finish the Daytona 500 and wrecked Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway but kept racing, finishing 27th.
Now, the NASCAR season is incredibly long, so Johnson has plenty of time to brush off his first two duds. His longtime friend and former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who Johnson definitely misses – said there is no need to worry about Johnson yet and explained when that time will come.
On his podcast, the Dale Jr. Download, Earnhardt said:
“Honestly, I don’t take too much stock in the points at this point in the season, two race in. One thing that you pay attention to is if we get five races in, and Jimmie hasn’t rebounded somewhat, that’s some cause for some serious concern.
“Any driver that’s down outside of the top 20 – or even around 18th, from 18th on back or so – if they’re in that area after five races, they’ve got a good possibility of being one of the drivers that’s battling for one of those last few spots in the playoffs – unless they’re able to get a win at some point in the season to push them up further into the playoff situation and conversation.”
As longtime Johnson fans know, multiple early and poor starts is unusual for the driver, Earnhardt reiterated. Johnson still has 24 regular-season races to win a race or jump into the top 16 to qualify for the playoffs.
He also pointed to the tracks coming up on NASCAR’s schedule. The sport is starting its West Coast tour this week, beginning with Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then heading to Phoenix and eventually southern California.
A native of the Golden State, Johnson has a strong history at the Auto Club Speedway – about an hour outside of Los Angeles – with six career wins there.
“Jimmie could go out and run in the top three next week and cure this issue right away. But if we get five races into the season and they still haven’t really laid down a couple decent finishes to stop the bleeding here, they’ll have a tougher time climbing through the ranks, as all the drivers in front of them are still finishing well and improving their points. It’s a steeper climb, a steeper hill to get up.
“That’d be the thing I’d be concerned about. I wouldn’t worry about it right now and just kind of get to the next race track.”
The Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.