20 Down, 3 to Go
This weekend the series rolls into the Bluegrass – a rare region where the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy remains winless. It’s not for a lack of speed, though – Jimmie has been plenty fast with solid results at the newest track on the Cup circuit.
He sat on the pole in 2012 and led the most laps in 2013. He only has one top five in Kentucky, but his five top ten’s in six races are second only to Matt Kenseth’s perfect six. His only finish outside the top ten was last year when he finished 32nd after limping a damaged No. 48 to the finish after a crash. Before the crash, his average finish of 7.4 ranked in the top five – but the wreck dropped him to eighth on that list with 11.5. Only Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have led more than Jimmie’s 203 circuits out front.
In a few weeks we head to picturesque upstate New York to the famed Watkins Glen International – another track with a goose egg in Team Lowe’s win column. In Jimmie’s 15 races there, his two poles (2004 & 2009) lead the series, and his four top five’s and eight top ten’s tie him for second on both lists. While seven drivers have led more than Jimmie’s 17 laps and ten drivers better his average finish of 15.4, it would be unwise to count Seven-Time out on the primarily right hand circuit. After all, he spent the first decade of his career whipping off-road vehicles to the left and the right. His best finsishes of third came in 2007 and 2012.
The final track where Jimmie has yet to hoist a trophy is Chicago. A number of near misses in the Windy City have left Jimmie and Chad with heartburn numerous occasions – perhaps no more dramatic than last season when Jimmie was nabbed for speeding on his final trip down pit lane in a race he appeared poised to cruise to victory. A typical calm Johnson was notably upset on the radio. But, that’s racin’. In 15 trips to Chicagoland, Jimmie has finished second three times – 2004, 2012, and in 2008 when Kyle Busch stole the lead on a green-white-checkered final restart. Kevin Harvick’s eight top five’s only best Johnson by one, and Jimmie’s ten top ten’s lead the series. He 695 laps led are more than 250 more laps than his closest competitor. Only young guns Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Larson better Johnson’s average finish of 9.5. But of the veterans with numerous starts, Johnson is the best in that category.
Last season we checked Homestead off our list, will Kentucky, Watkins Glen, and Chicago be the next? We’ll have one chance at each this year, with Kentucky on tap this Saturday at 7:30 PM ET in NBCSN – be sure to tune in!