Summertime blues: Johnson's misery continues at Pocono

Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson may be locked into this year's 16-driver Chase field, but he has been far from championship form the past few weeks.

Jimmie Johnson drives his damaged car to pit road on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Todd Warshaw / Getty Images

Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson may be locked into this year's 16-driver Chase field, but he has been far from championship form the past few weeks.

Despite having three wins on the season, Johnson has struggled mightily over the past four races, including Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Starting in the 17th spot, Johnson made little progress in the opening laps. On Lap 17, Johnson hit the outside wall and blew a tire to bring out the second caution of the day.

After repairs to the car, Johnson restarted the race in 43rd, one lap down to the leaders. Despite the early incident, Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led team were able to use pit strategy and a fast car to work their way up to back to the front of the field.

With just 49 laps to go, it appeared Johnson was going to have a great recovery from his early brush with the wall, as he was running fourth and contending for the win.

However, for the second time on the day, Johnson's car shot hard into the outside wall, this time in the Tunnel Turn. Making heavy contact, Johnson said there was no warning as he pulled the No. 48 Chevrolet behind the wall.

Unable to make repairs, Johnson finished the day 39th and recorded his third DNF in the last four weeks.

"The first one, I got tight off Turn 1 and got in the fence. It pushed the rear quarter panel into the tire and got the first flat, so my bad," said Johnson. "There on that (second) one, I am clueless. 

"It didn't act like a tire went down and I am not exactly sure if it did," he said. "Normally when they go down that quick, they explode, and there was no explosion. The tire did not come apart; it just went straight. We are trying to get in there and look at it. Obviously, the tire is flat now from the impact. Hopefully, we can get a reason why. Unfortunate with how hard we fought to get ourselves back in contention, and I was really proud of this Lowe's team. It wasn't the best weekend, but we still gave ourselves a chance at a win if not a top five today, and came up a little short."

After scoring three wins in four weeks at Charlotte, Dover and Michigan, over the past four weeks Johnson has finished 42nd at Daytona, 42nd at Loudon, a disappointing 14th at Indianapolis, and 39th Sunday at Pocono. 

Earlier in the weekend at Pocono, Johnson admitted the summer stretch of the season has never been kind to the No. 48 team, but this year has been especially tough.

"It's no secret that the middle portion of the year has always been a challenge for the No. 48," he said during Friday's media availability. "When you look at the start of the season and the end of the season, where a lot of those tracks are the same, especially in the Chase era that has really worked to our advantage. And the summer stretch has been tough on us. It always has. There have been years that we make it through a little smoother than others. This year has been as inconsistent as probably any of them for us."

Unfortunately for the No. 48 team, that trend continued Sunday at Pocono.

VIDEO: Tire issues send Johnson to garage

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