Unsatisfied: Johnson believes team still has room for improvement
JUL 03, 2014 5:51p ET
Jimmie Johnson has won three of the past six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and owns seven consecutive top-10 finishes.
Thanks to his series-high three victories, Johnson is seeded first in the new 16-driver Chase Grid Standings that will set the field for the season-ending 10-race playoff.
And you want to know what's scariest of all?
The reigning and six-time Sprint Cup champion believes his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team still has considerable room for improvement.
"We still have some ground to make up, I feel," said Johnson on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, site of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400. "The No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) is really the most consistent car with speed off the truck. The Penske guys seem to be able to create some really big speed at times; maybe not as consistent as the No. 4. We've been able to get there by Sunday. And a lot of weekends it hasn't been a fun journey, unloading and searching and finding our way come race time.
"But even with that challenge, we're still going into Victory Lane and collecting points. That's the part we need to clean up. And we're very aware of it inside the team that unloading on Friday with speed in the car is really the area we need to zero-in on."
Over the same seven-race stretch in which Johnson has finished no worse than 10th, the California native has qualified 20th or worse three times. And that's the area where Johnson harbors legitimate concerns.
"We try to look back and reflect and say, 'Wow, we've done a great job as a team (by) showing up 'off' and finding our way there," he said. "So there's plenty to be proud of. But come Chase time, you can't show up and unload on the right side of the scoring monitor and then find your way to Victory Lane. You're putting yourself too far behind the eight ball. Luckily, we have a couple of months to really advance and get our cars where they need to be."
Johnson will undoubtedly be a factor in Saturday night's outing at Daytona, a 2.5-mile superspeedway where he swept both Sprint Cup Series points races last year.
With Johnson's Daytona wins from 2013 and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in the 2014 Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports comes into the weekend riding a three-race winning streak at The World Center of Racing.
Johnson, however, isn't inclined to make any bold predictions about Saturday night. Daytona, one of only two restrictor-plate tracks on the schedule, has long been known for producing the unexpected, and Saturday night's showdown under the lights will likely be no different.
"It's a wild-card race," said Johnson, who has three wins in 25 points races at the central Florida facility. "We understand that anybody in the draft has a shot at winning the race. We have enough wins that we can throw caution to the wind if it's strategy on track or whatever it is.
"Our goal is to come here and put ourselves in position to win and hopefully enter that white-flag lap on that front row in those first couple of positions and have a shot at winning the race."
Even though Saturday night's race doesn't carry the prestige of the Daytona 500, Johnson views any win at Daytona -- the birthplace of NASCAR -- as a special one.
"For me, it's up there on the list, for sure," he said. "We go through our majors and can argue what tracks kind of fit into that category. I don't feel that this July race is really in that category, but I think it's a fun race because of the weekend it falls on.
"We're able to run patriotic paint schemes and say thank you to the men and women who defend and serve for us and celebrate Independence Day. So that definitely jazzes things up and pushes it up the list."