It wasn’t quite a return to form for Jimmie Johnson on Sunday afternoon at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, but it was a step in the right direction.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finished eighth in the TicketGuardian 500, his best result since October at the Charlotte ROVAL if you exclude his ninth-place finish in the attrition-filled Daytona 500.
Johnson started 15th, scored points in the second stage and also led four laps in final stage following a two-tire pit stop.
It’s not to their lofty standards, but the first step to getting back there.
"Yeah, definitely a strong performance," Johnson said after the race. "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. Excited about that. We weathered the storm on two tires, on four and ended up with a nice top-10."
Johnson endured his worst statistical season last year and was separated from his longtime crew chief, Chad Knaus, who was sent to William Byron’s No. 24 team. Johnson is working with Kevin Meendering this season, one year after the engineer won the Xfinity Series championship with Tyler Reddick.
Johnson feels like he is starting to gel with Meendering and build momentum with the same team that he largely struggled with last year.
"No, it’s not a victory, but it’s definitely a solid day for the Ally Chevrolet," Johnson added. "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 the second half of the race. Atlanta was terrible, can’t say anything different there.
"We are learning each week and I still think we have some catching up to do, but certainly a solid performance. Kevin called a great race, it was really tricky with strategy, two tires, four tires, our pit crew had to adjust mid pit stop one time and go from four to two and everybody responded really well."
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