Can Jimmie Johnson capture a record eighth championship? 'Our chances are really good'
Jimmie Johnson is the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and has his sights set on a record eighth title. Yet, Johnson is somewhat of an underdog entering the playoffs due to a recent slump entering Sunday's opening postseason race at Chicagoland Speedway.
The No. 48 Chevrolet driver has posted three wins this season, but currently has a career-worst average finish of 16.7. His wins at Texas, Bristol and Dover were all in the first half of the season and are his only three top fives.
But never count out Johnson come the playoffs, a stretch of 10 races at tracks where he has won 48 of his career 83 Cup Series wins. Johnson does save the best for last and he's ready and focused to surpass NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty on the all-time championships list with his eighth title.
“I feel that, once we get back to tracks that I know the sensation I’m looking for, and I know how to create speed at these tracks, I can help better steer our group and say, ‘OK, this is the area we need to work on,' Johnson told reporters Wednesday.
“Some of these tracks in the summer months, they aren’t my best tracks. It’s easy to get lost in the process and trying to understand where the speed is. A place like Dover (where he's won 11 times) is going to be great medicine for us that I can get out there and say ‘OK, now it makes sense to me; we need to work in this area.”
Johnson has never won at Chicagoland, but he does boast seven top fives, 10 top 10s and a 9.5 average finish in 15 starts there and has been a kingpin at 1.5-mile tracks in his career. An opening win would do wonders for Johnson's title hopes but he likes his odds (7/1) regardless.
“It’s so unpredictable that there’s no telling,” Johnson said. “I think our chances are really good, and we should be in the conversation. I know we need to earn that right to go out and be a part of the conversation. So maybe there’s a good bet there to be had. ...
“But I don’t want to take away from the frustration and effort that has gone into the summer. We didn’t enjoy last year, and we have had other summers that weren’t any fun. We’ve worked really hard to not let it happen in 2017, but—damn it—it did again. (But) after the summer is the fall, and we always get hot in the fall. We’re certainly hoping for more of the same.”
Martin Truex Jr. is favored (7/2) to win his first Cup Series championship, followed by Kyle Busch (4/1) and Kyle Larson (11/2).