For Jimmie Johnson, New Hampshire Motor Speedway was more than just a one-mile flat oval. Last Sunday, it was the highway to the danger zone.
Broken belts and resulting power steering issues relegated the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion to a 30th-place finish in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. That result followed another 30th at Kentucky Speedway the week before.
What’s more, the New Hampshire fiasco put Johnson in real jeopardy of missing a Cup series Playoff for the first time in his career. Johnson is the only driver to have qualified for postseason competition in every year NASCAR has used a Playoff format, starting in 2004.
At New Hampshire, however, Johnson fell to 17th in the series standings, tied with Daniel Suarez and 17 points behind Clint Bowyer, who currently holds the final Playoff-eligible position. Remarkably, Johnson trails all three of his less-experienced Hendrick Motorsports teammates in the standings, with Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman already Playoff bound, thanks to race victories, and William Byron comfortably in the 12th spot.
For Johnson, there’s no need to mince words—the situation is dire.
“It was an unfortunate turn the last couple of weeks,” Johnson said ruefully during a conference call with reporters in advance of Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “I think, prior to those two weeks, we’ve really upped our performance and have been bringing more competitive cars to the track.
“We just have to keep evolving in that space, from the 48 specifically and then, I think, as a whole for HMS.”
It’s business as usual for Trucks points leader Grant Enfinger
Even though Grant Enfinger has seen his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series lead shrink from 54 to 34 points in the last two races, he’s not about to change the approach that propelled him to the top of the standings.
The driver of the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford was 16th at Chicagoland on June 28, ending a streak of eight straight top 10s. At Kentucky on July 11 he was 24th. But those two results aren’t likely to make Enfinger, who hasn’t won yet this season, race more cautiously.
“I don’t think we race conservatively,” Enfinger said on Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Saturday’s Gander RV 150 (1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “We really haven’t all year. But I don’t think we do anything differently, to be honest with you. We kind of control our own destiny.
“We’ve got a little bit of a points lead—not a huge one—but, really, at the end of the day, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, running to the limit of the truck and getting all we can get. Everybody on this No. 98 ThorSport Racing team has done a pretty good job of that all year.
“We’ve had a couple of hiccups the last couple of weeks, but nothing to really change our direction or anything like that. At this point, it’s business as usual.”