The defending Sprint Cup champion is among those drivers yet to win a race this season, the first since NASCAR expanded its 10-race playoffs to 16 cars and put a bitter emphasis on wins over point standings.
For Johnson, it’s far too early to fret about lost opportunities. Not with the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race, coming up Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“There are always different challenges in this sport and I know we’ll get it,” Johnson said Thursday.
Johnson got the week off to a strong start, taking the pole for the race with a fast lap of 194.911 mph. It was Johnson’s fourth career pole here and he try for his record-breaking seventh Charlotte victory from up front.
“We had a strong race car all day and I’m obviously very pleased with my performance,” he said.
Johnson’s not worrying about his place this season. After all, he says the window to make the championship has widened with the increase from 12 to 16 teams “and I really don’t think there’s going to be 16 different winners.”
But then Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon added their names to the already lengthy NASCAR playoff list with victories at Talladega and Kansas.
It’s no fun for Clint Bowyer to see his team outside looking in at the moment. Bowyer has made the chase in five of the past seven seasons, finishing a career-best second in points two years ago.
“The first half certainly isn’t where we’re accustomed to running and hasn’t been as smooth as we need it to be,” said Bowyer, who is 20th in points. “The flip side to that is we’re only halfway and we’ve got a long ways to go with a lot of racing.”
And those winners this season aren’t slowing down, either.
Harvick, in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, has relished racing up front and challenging for the checkered flag most weeks. He’s had an 11th place, a seventh and a runner-up to Gordon in his past three outings since taking the Southern 500 last month. Still, he’s 10th in the points standings because of four finishes of 36th or worse this season.