No quit in Seven-Time: 'This is who I am and its what I am'

Marissa Fuller
NASCAR.com

We heard it all last season. We heard it throughout the entire offseason. And we‘re still hearing it in the current 2019 season.

Is Jimmie Johnson done winning? Does he not have it anymore?

In short, Johnson‘s answer to that: No.

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The veteran driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is not only just as determined and driven to win and succeed as he was when he was winning back-to-back championships, he‘s also not yet done proving himself.

“I still definitely have something to prove,” Johnson told NASCAR.com. “I love racing. This is who I am and it‘s what I am. I started doing this at 5. Through my career, I‘ve had plenty of ups and downs and the last couple of years have certainly been down, but that doesn‘t mean I‘m going to stay there. I‘ve worked my entire career to learn what I have today and know what I know.”

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Johnson, who is competing in his 18th full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, knows what it takes to win, and after his last two seasons, he knows what it takes to lose.

So how does a guy with so much success pull himself out of a slump?

“One of the key ingredients for me, throughout my career, has been outworking people,” Johnson said. “I‘m busy doing that now, trying to put in time when no one else is putting it in and understanding my car in a deeper detail than anyone else.”

The fact the seven-time champion is currently fighting for a spot in the playoffs is not only shocking but has also placed an unimaginable amount of pressure on him.

“The pressure is definitely on. We‘ve helped our situation recently and are a little higher in the points,” Johnson said. “With all that said, yes, still plenty of pressure. Momentum is on our side, but there‘s no momentum like the momentum of a win for you and your team.”

That doesn‘t go to say the mostly calm, cool and collected 43-year-old hasn‘t gotten frustrated and angry at his current winless streak.

“The results have been frustrating, there‘s no way around that, and I guess some comments here and there would reflect that but there‘s no quit in me,” Johnson said. “I love what I do and I love racing.”

Johnson heads into Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with three top fives, eight top 10s and one pole this season.

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In five instances, Johnson has won in his ninth career start at a track. Saturday is his ninth start at the 1.5-mile oval. This is also one of only four tracks he has never taken home the checkered flag.

“We’ve been really close here but just haven’t been able to get it done,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing (adding the traction compound to the track), it gives us more options to choose from, more ways to be competitive and pass.”

With the recent improvements inside the Hendrick Motorsports camp, there could be a light at the end of this long and winding tunnel for Johnson.

“I think now as a group, we‘re all running in the top 10, if not the top five, and right now we‘re just trying to find the little subtleties that I want out of the race car and what I need to feel,” he said. “At the same time, we‘re still kind of hitting our stride as the new team 48. There‘s a lot of new faces on the race team, some changes recently as well. We‘re still trying to hit our stride together and we‘re getting closer.”

An offseason crew chief shakeup hit the No. 48 crew after a winless year in 2018. Chad Knaus, Johnson‘s longtime crew chief who was there with him for all of his championships, now sits atop the pit box for the young William Byron. Kevin Meendering took over for Johnson, so there was a lot to learn and put together as a new pairing.

“Kevin and I have been working hard on it,” Johnson said. “Now, as we‘ve spent some time together, he knows what he needs out of me and I know what I need out of him and we continue to work on that relationship.”

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Times have changed since the beginning of Johnson’s racing career, and those changes haven’t gone unnoticed, with the equipment, data and information available to drivers constantly evolving. But one thing has always remained the same: his mindset.

“My mindset has always been very similar, and Jeff Gordon has really helped me with that through my career and that is, good or bad, that was last weekend and you‘ve got to come in and start with a clean mind and just attack the weekend, the day ahead and take it from there,” Johnson said.

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