Jimmie Johnson scored his first top-10 of the season Sunday evening, finishing ninth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway. It was not the finish he wanted but it was a step in the right direction and proof that his desire and determination have not wavered in the chase for an eighth championship.
“Each week, we’ve been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said. “We’re definitely not happy with where we are right now but to see the improvements, we’ve been seeing it internally and to make the cars drive better and better and get more competitive. A strong day for the Lowe’s for Pros Chevy, definitely not where we want to be but we’re getting closer every week.”
The top-10 could not have come at a better time. On March 14 Hendrick Motorsports announced that Lowes would discontinue their sponsorship of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet after the 2018 season. Lowes has been the only primary sponsor of the team since 2001.
As the news hit, questions about Johnson’s future with NASCAR began to circulate. Was this a foreshadowing of the end of the seven-time champion’s career?
The doubts are somewhat understandable when you consider his season to date.
Johnson got off to a shaky start after he was caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 59 of the season-opening Daytona 500, ending his day early and resulting in a 38th place finish. Although the progress this year has been slow, the No. 48 team has been steadily improving. Johnson placed 27th the following week at Atlanta, followed by a 12th place at Las Vegas and a finish of 14th at Phoenix.
At first glance, the gains made may seem insignificant but when it comes to NASCAR’s dynamic duo of Johnson and Chad Knaus, never, under any circumstances, count them out. Since his first full-time season in 2002, Johnson has captured a minimum of two wins every single year of his Cup Series career.
The question remains. Is he nearing the end of his career? Johnson quickly responded with an unequivocal no.
“I have more to accomplish in this sport,” he said. “I feel the best I’ve ever felt physically. I’m motivated. I’m focused on winning races and chasing more championships. Someone (a new sponsor) will be a big part of writing that story with us. I’m not going anywhere.”