NASCAR Phoenix: Struggling Johnson ‘excited’ by hint of progress

Jimmie Johnson believes his struggling Hendrick Motorsports team showed encouraging signs of recovery in last weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix.

Aside from his contentious win in the non-championship Clash event at Daytona, Johnson’s eighth place at Phoenix was his best result since Talladega last October and his most competitive performance since fighting for the win at the Charlotte Roval last September.

“Definitely a strong performance,” said Johnson.

“We need more. We need to find more, but on a short track where grip is so important our guys did a nice job all weekend long of bringing a little bit more.

“I’m excited about that. We weathered the storm on two tyres, on four and ended up with a nice top 10.”

The seven-time Cup champion has not won a championship round since June 2017.

In the two races heading to Phoenix, he had only managed 24th at Atlanta and 19th at Las Vegas.

“No, it’s not a victory, but it’s definitely a solid day,” he said of the Phoenix performance.

“These guys have been working so hard at Hendrick Motorsports to get us more and more and we took a good step in the right direction.

“I even think at Vegas we were better than where we finished.

“Once we lost track position, we struggled in the second half of that race.

“Atlanta was terrible, I can’t say anything different there.

“We are learning each week and I still think we have some catching up to do, but certainly it was a solid performance.”

Last winter Johnson parted company with crew chief Chad Knaus, who he had worked with since joining Hendrick full time for the 2002 season.

Knaus now works with Johnson’s team-mate William Byron, and has been replaced on the #48 car by former JR Motorsports Xfinity Series crew chief Kevin Meendering.

Johnson praised Meendering’s strategy calls at Phoenix, once of which got him into a brief race lead.

“Kevin called a great race,” said Johnson.

“It was really tricky with strategy, two tyres, four tyres, our pit crew had to adjust mid pitstop one time and go from four to two and everybody responded really well.”

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