Jimmie Johnson wanted to get the heck home.
But to be honest, so too did every other driver, crew member and fan in attendance for this weekend’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. After all, the race was delayed three times for rain Sunday, then postponed until Monday. It was wet. Cold. And even though Monday’s portion went off largely without a hitch, snow started falling again as soon as the checkered flag flew.
“Let’s get home and get out of here,” Johnson said. “It’s snowing again.”
Good thing Johnson’s performance was.
To date, 2018 hadn’t been a kind season for Johnson. Even that is putting it nicely. He’d crashed out of multiple races, struggled to find speed when he could stay intact, and generally had the sort of year unbecoming of a seven-time Cup Series champion.
His best finish to date was ninth at Fontana. After that, he’s come home — and No. 48 fans, don’t look — 12th, 14th, 15th, 27th, 35th, and 38th.
Of course, that was until Monday, when Johnson finished third.
“We’ve been talking about our cars performing better and driving better and creating speed the last three weeks or so,” Johnson said, “but to finally back it up with a solid finish is exactly what we needed.”
Now to Johnson’s credit, he has handled the rough start to this year exceedingly well. His mantra has remained the same, that it’s only a matter of time before his team and the rest of the group at Hendrick Motorsports figured things out.
All it took was a little rain, snow, freezing temperatures, and half the field to crash out for that to happen.
Kidding. Johnson’s finish Monday may have been partially because of the circumstances, but it also had to do with something else —that he drove the living daylights out of his car.
That started at the beginning, too. Johnson began the race at the rear after cutting a tire in qualifying. Considering he won this race in 2017, that wasn’t an optimal position.
No matter, though. Johnson survived the carnage Sunday — when there were eight cautions for weather and slippery driving — and even earned stage points in Stage 1. That he completed the Sunday portion of the race at all would have been an accomplishment, but soaring from the back to seventh was even more impressive. When the race resumed Monday, Johnson just kept hanging around the front (even if never leading laps) and ultimately settled in at third.
So, with this finish, is Jimmie Johnson back?
Sort of — although if you listen to him, he never really left.
“If things seem to be going wrong, they continue for a while,” Johnson said. “I have experienced it in my career where we have had different dry spells. We’ll get the car going well and I’ll make a mistake, or the car is going well and we have a bad pit stop, or just unlucky, and it takes a while.
“Sometime it’ll turn around — you just don’t know when.”
For Johnson, could his best finish this year be the turning point on his season?
“The last two days was a big step in the right direction for us,” Johnson said. “I really feel like we’re rolling in the right direction now.”