*edited to include the 2016 and 2017 season as of 7/10*
Much has been made of the demise of Hendrick Motorsports and the slump they’re enduring and how the sky is falling over at NASCAR’s preeminent shop. Yawn. We’ve heard this before. In fact, for the most dominant team in NASCAR’s modern era, the sky falls practically every summer. And just like clockwork as the leaves change, amazingly so does Johnson’s fortune as the summer winds to a close.
When something happens often enough, it’s no longer due to chance, or luck. You just chalk it up to the way things are. And Jimmie Johnson struggling through the summer, seemingly making him seem vulnerable, only to recover once the playoffs start is a fall tradition that’s about as entrenched as Thanksgiving Day football at this point.
So let’s slow down wondering what’s wrong with Hendrick Motorsports. Talk to me after the chase if Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson don’t have their Lowe’s Chevy up front consistently over the final ten races of the season competing for wins and the title.
After all, we’ve seen this before. Just look
Summer- From Indianapolis up until the final race of the regular season finished 36th or worse in 4 of six races. Three weeks in a row suffered a blown engine while averaging a 28.2 finish over the final six races of the regular season.
Chase- Slump continued to begin the chase by opening with an 11th and 10th, followed by two DNFs at Talladega and Kansas to seemingly end championship hopes. Proceeded to win four of the next five races and then finished 2nd at Homestead to narrowly miss out on winning the championship.
Summer- After the series 14th race at Pocono Johnson held a 123 point lead over Greg Biffle in the standings. Johnson would go on to finish out of the top ten in eight of the next dozen races with an average finish of 19.4 and fell 316 points behind Tony Stewart.
Chase- Johnson won twice in the chase and entered Homestead just 52 points behind Tony Stewart in the race for the championship before an accident relegated him to a 40th place finish.
Summer- Over the final five races of the regular season Johnson had an average finish of 14.8 with only one top ten finish.
Chase- After being wrecked by teammate Brian Vickers on the last lap while racing for the win at Talladega, Johnson found himself 8th in points after four races in the chase and 202 points out of the lead. Over the next five races his average finish was 1.8, with four runner-ups and a win en route to his first championship.
Summer- From Dover during the first weekend of June thru the Brickyard 400 at the end of July, Johnson finished 15th or worse in six of the next eight races. Three of those finishes were 37th or worse and he found himself 9th in points, 607 in arrears of teammate Jeff Gordon after averaging a 23rd place finish during that stretch.
Chase- Johnson averaged a steady 7.8 average finish over the first five chase races. He then proceeded to win four races in a row to catapult him to his second straight title.
Summer- For once, there was no summer slump to speak of. Struggles during May kept Johnson from commanding the standings, but he ended the regular season 3rd in points.
Chase- Eight finishes in the top 10, and no finishes worse than 15th coupled nicely with three victories as Johnson matched Cale Yarborough with his third straight championship.
Summer- After twenty races and his victory at Indianapolis, Johnson sat second in points. However, over the final six races of the regular season, Johnson would only finish in the top ten once, managing only to have an average finish of 18.8.
Chase- Four wins and seven top five finishes were more than enough for Johnson to wrap up title number four.
Summer- Back to back wins at Sonoma and Loudon had Johnson second in points, 105 behind Kevin Harvick after 17 races. His average finish over the next seven races though was a staggering 23.3 with just one top ten finish and five finishes out of the top twenty.
Chase- After a 25th place finish in the first race of the chase, Johnson used nine straight finishes inside the top ten to wrap up his fifth consecutive championship.
Summer- There was no real slump for the 48 team over the summer of 2011, and many expected them to be a favorite for the title once the chase began.
Chase- An absolute disaster for Johnson, they finished out of the top ten in seven of the ten races and finished a then career worst 6th in points.
Summer- There was a mini slump from Daytona thru Richmond as Johnson had five finishes out of the top ten over the final nine events of the regular season.
Chase- Five top five finishes among the first eight events of the chase had Johnson in the points lead with two laps to go, but an uncharacteristic collapse over the final two races saw finishes of 32nd and 36th derail their championship hopes.
Summer- Over the final four races leading into the chase, Johnson had an average finish of 36th, and average finish of 27.5 over the final half dozen races in the regular season.
Chase- For the second time in his career, Johnson used nine top tens in the chase to walk away with the championship at the end of the year.
Summer- After 17 races Johnson sat second in points, right on the heels of Jeff Gordon. But after averaging a 33rd place over their next five races, including three finishes of 39th or worse, Johnson had fallen to 7th in points.
Chase- Johnson steadily advanced out of the first round of NASCAR’s reformulated chase, but he failed to finish higher than 17th in any of the races in round two and was eliminated.
Summer- After the season’s official halfway point Johnson found himself second in points. But from there to the conclusion of the regular season eight races later, Johnson only averaged a 14.4 average finish.
Chase- This time they couldn’t right the ship at all in the chase, as mechanical failure at Dover doomed them to first round elimination.
Summer- Jimmie Johnson sat third in points after the Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600, but when the calendar flipped to June, like clockwork the 48 suddenly started tumbling in the standings. Over the next 14 races Johnson had an average finish of 19.4, with only one top 5. The 48 team led only three races for a total of 42 laps, and 41 of those 42 came in the two Michigan races. In fact, when the circuit left Darlington after Labor Day, Johnson had fallen from 3rd in points to 11th between the summer bookend weekends.
Chase- Due to his two wins, Johnson was still able to begin the playoffs tied for 4th, a mere 6 points behind leader Brad Keselowski as the first round began. Johnson used an average finish of 9th in the first round to advance and then subsequently won the opening race of each of the following two rounds to secure his spot in the finale at Homestead where, of course, he won again, and won his record tying 7th championship.
So, yes, he’s struggled again this summer. His average finish over the last 8 races is a very pedestrian 19.1, and that includes winning a race in that stretch. While he’s won 3 of the first 18 races this year, he hasn’t finished better than 8th in any of the others, posting an average finish of 18.7.
But if you wanna count this time out of the championship hunt, do so at your own risk. I didn’t last August, and it paid off quite nice at the end of the year.