There’s not a whole lot left Jimmie Johnson could do that would surprise people. Entering Michigan on Sunday though it’s nothing but surprises when it comes to the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team of the five-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champions.
[media-credit name=”Ed Coombs” align=”alignright” width=”216″][/media-credit]To start, after 14 races in 2011 they’ve only seen victory lane once, at Talladega. Not at tracks where Johnson normally takes up home in the winner’s circle like Las Vegas, Fontana or Martinsville. This time last season he’d already collected three trophies but not so this year.
Maybe that’s not surprising at all, but the next statistic should be. Heading into Michigan, Johnson is 0-18, goose egged, shut out, win less!
Johnson being o-fer in any context doesn’t happen often. But the driver who has won championships, Brickyard 400s, Daytona 500’s and many other races, has yet to win at Michigan.
While there’s also three other tracks – Chicago, Watkins Glen, Kentucky (new to the schedule) and Homestead – it hasn’t been for a lack of trying, especially Michigan.
“We’ve been close and our fuel mileage has been kind of our nemesis with two or three different things that have taken place there,” said Johnson. “We’ve led a fair amount of laps over the years and just kind of haven’t had the luck or the mileage or whatever it is at the end of the race.”
Had it not been for fuel mileage, Johnson could easily have multiple Michigan wins. Instead, the only thing that has slowed down and stopped him the last five years has been Michigan and a sputtering fuel tank.
In 2006 he was running third when he ran out of fuel with eight laps to go. In 2009 he was leading when he again ran out of fuel coming to the white flag. Later that same season Johnson, again leading, again ran out of fuel this time with two laps to go.
His luck is eventually bound to change. Even without a victory Johnson has led over 500 laps at the track and is a yearly contender. In his 18 races though, Johnson only has two top fives and seven top 10s. His average starting position (7.8) is much better than his average finish (15.2). Yet, he still looks forward to Michigan every season.
“Looking forward to going back,” he said. “We’re always looking forward to going racing in the area where the manufacturers are based and I want to put on a good show for all the Chevrolet fans and do my part to represent the bowtie. We’ve been making a lot of progress on our intermediate setups and race cars. I think this could be a win for the 48 this weekend.”
Coming off a fourth place finish in Pocono, Johnson still sits second in points but now just six markers out of the lead. Much like his career at Michigan, he’s been running well this season, just not well enough.
The surprises for Johnson don’t end there. If Sunday at Michigan ends for him like many of the previous ones have, he’ll still be able to celebrate on a personal note. Sunday is Father’s Day and for the first time it’ll mean a little bit more as it’s the first he’ll celebrate as a father himself.
Genevieve Marie Johnson was born last year, July 7, to Johnson and wife Chandra. Since her arrival he’s won two races and his fifth championship to which she was present at all. But if he could find victory lane on Sunday in Michigan it would be special for the Johnson’s for more than one reason.
“Really just hanging with the girls,” said Johnson when asked about his Father’s Day plans. “That’s all I’m after just spending time with my family. Will be exciting to say the least. Don’t know what to expect – I haven’t been through it before so I don’t know what to think from an emotional side, but very proud of my family and looking forward to that day.”