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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Expectations have yet to merge with reality, but Jimmie Johnson arrived at Kansas Speedway this week no less confident in his team or his chances at returning to the winner's circle.
"Successful teams can sometimes be their own worst enemy," the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion said prior to Friday's first practice for Saturday night's 5-hour Energy 400 Benefiting Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
"We have been through dry spells before. A 10-12 race dry spell isn't a very long one. We have set an expectation that is less than that. I get it. I understand."
Johnson, the defending Sprint Cup champion, isn't the only driver still looking for that first victory of 2014. His absence from Victory Lane, however, is easily the most noticeable. In a career that began 14 seasons ago, Johnson has 66 wins to go with his six championships. He's won three or more races every season save for one (2011). And he's won five or more in a single season eight times, including a career-best 10 in 2007.
When Johnson isn't winning, people notice. But Johnson also knows that his team has had its chances this year, finishing in the top five three times and the top 10 on five occasions. He was dominant at Martinsville, leading 296 laps, and strong at Auto Club Speedway, where he led 104.
"If we didn't have any looks at wins this year I would have a much different opinion," Johnson, 38, admitted. "I still feel that we are extremely competitive and I feel as an individual I'm a better race car driver today than I was last year."
The longest he's gone without pulling the familiar blue and white Lowe's Chevrolet into Victory Lane? Twenty-one races, a drought that lasted through the summer and spilled over into the fall of 2011.
He broke it at Kansas Speedway.
"Everything is there," he insists. "We just need to own this new rules package and find the No. 48 set-up in it. That is what we are searching for.
"Some tracks we have been close; others not so much, but our drive to compete -- it really exists within Chad (Knaus, crew chief) ? and me. That hasn't changed one bit. We are still as hungry as we have ever been."
He enters this weekend's race seventh in points, and is a two-time winner at the 1.5-mile track. He's finished no worse than ninth in his last 10 starts here.
Matt Kenseth, also winless thus far this year, is the defending race winner.
"There is no guarantee that success will be as it was in the past, but we are going to show up and give 100 percent each week," Johnson said. "I know we will win our fair share of races.
"We will make Chases and certainly be a threat for championships."
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