The significance of the date June 4, 2017 should not be lost on fans of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It was on that date that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson wheeled his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into victory lane at Dover International Speedway marking his last win. To put it in perspective, it has been almost two full years since the winner of 83 races in NASCAR’s top division last took a checkered flag.
Considering just how good Johnson and longtime crew chief Chad Knaus were for a run that lasted a decade and a half, the fact that this driver could go without a win over more than 70 starts is almost mind blowing. As a matter of fact, Hendrick Motorsports did, over the most recent off-season, what many would have considered unthinkable ten years ago by splitting up one of the most successful driver/crew chief combinations in the history of the sport.
Johnson’s team is now led by Kevin Meendering while Knaus heads up the effort of young William Byron.
And while it is remarkable that Johnson has not won in essentially two years, a deeper look into the statistics reveals that his skid is even worse than appears on the surface. Not only is the famed HMS team not pulling into victory lane at the end of race weekends, they are suffering through an extended run of very poor finishes that have turned this once feared team into a mid-pack runner more often than not.
Since that 2017 win in Dover, Johnson has only managed four top-5 finishes. And further, the No. 48 has finished within the top-10 only 23 times in its past 71 points-paying MENCS events. Keep in mind that this is a driver who has scored a total of 225 top-5 and 358 top-10 results over the course of his stellar career.
To put Johnson’s efforts over the past two calendar years into perspective, The Roush Fenway Racing team for driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has scored more top-5 finishes than Johnson during that same period of time.
But here is the most telling statistic of Johnson’s downturn in performance. The El Cajon, California driver has registered almost as many finishes outside the top-20 as he has inside the top-10. Since the 2017 race in Dover, Johnson has ended his day in the 21st position or worse a total of 22 times. That’s only one more top-10 finish over that time period than those results outside the top-20.
So what’s the problem?
Some might point to Johnson’s age being that he is now 43. But consider that Kevin Harvick is the same age as Johnson and he won eight times last season. And the drop off in performance cannot be attributed to Johnson’s physical condition. After all, the man just completed the Boston Marathon.
As has been well documented, all of Hendrick Motorsports has endured a prolonged time of underachievement. The entire organization has only scored four wins since the beginning of the 2018 campaign and those were all achieved by Chase Elliott. The second half of the 2017 season only saw one HMS pilot, Kasey Kahne, win when he took first in the Brickyard 400.
As a matter of fact, this problem seems to be somewhat across the board for teams that employ the Chevrolet Camaro. Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing have fared no better than HMS over the same time period.
But the real bottom line of all of these statistics for this writer is the fact that one of NASCAR’s all-time greats is in the midst of such a deep slump that had it been predicted two years ago would have drawn laughter from the vast majority of NASCAR enthusiasts.
The question is- will this slump end anytime soon?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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