Johnson: Texas run “is what we've been looking for”
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson picked up his first top-five finish of the season after starting on the pole at Texas.
Although it didn’t end his 66-race winless streak, Johnson was all smiles following Sunday’s O’Reilly 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson won the pole award and remained up in the front pack much of the race before ending up fifth - his first top-five since he was fifth at Charlotte Motor Speedway last May in the Coca-Cola 600.
"We are definitely moving in the right direction,” said an ecstatic Johnson. “(The) car was good in clean air and had a lot of speed in it, so I think we have found kind of the center for our cars and what has to happen.
“It was a little evil in traffic, and I had a heck of a time on green flag restarts, but really worked hard to get it up underneath me and tightening the car up a little bit for us to race.”
The weekend was one of the best Johnson can remember since his winless slump started in 2017. He felt his finish Sunday shows his team and all of Hendrick Motorsports is making positive steps.
Johnson's 60 laps led Sunday is the most he's led in a race since his spring win at Bristol, Tenn., in 2017, leading 81 laps.
"For me, I was just trying to get a consistent weekend,” he said. “It is one thing to have one-lap pace, we needed that and we did that on Friday. Then, Saturday went really well.
“So, in the back of my mind I was thinking we just needed to have a rock-solid day, and if we did that, then I could confirm to myself and to everyone else that we are moving in the right direction.”
Johnson now has three top-10 finishes this season and feels his cars are getting better each week.
"It is completely different to have a fast car in clean air and then one in traffic,” Johnson said. “That delta between the two environments, we've closed that up. So clearly had a fast car, we got the pole. But driving way better in traffic when you take the air off of it.
“I think we've found some really good direction and this is a great learning point for us. Vegas went so bad. we just scrapped it all and started over. Fontana was okay, but still not what we needed.
“Now that not only the No. 48 running well, but all the cars had speed in them we have great information to go forward with."
The biggest difference for Johnson to get back to Victory Lane is to have good handling cars with strong engines making the most power within the new rules packages being used this season.
“With this low horsepower package, I think it puts more in the car's hands than the driver's,” said Johnson. “We don't have that extra horsepower to get us out of trouble or the throttle control I grew up developing on dirt tracks as a kid.
“So, I think the emphasis is much more on the car with this package and my guys did a great job and brought me a great car. This is what we've been looking for.”
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