Johnson finishes ninth in front of California crowd

By Matt Courson
March 18, 2018

FONTANA, Calif.—Coming off what is often considered to be the worst start of his career, Jimmie Johnson found a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Southern California native finished inside the top 10 in the Auto Club, breaking the longest top-10 finish drought of the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s career at 10 races.

“We’re making small gains each week,” Johnson said to The Racing Experts.

“...I think we still have a lot of learning to do this year; and two, three months from now, I think we’ll be where we want to be.”

Due to technical inspection issues on Friday, Johnson and the No. 48 team were unable to make a qualifying lap, which resulted in a starting position of 33rd.

Johnson raced his way to the front of the pack by the end of Stage 1 (lap 60). The seven-time Champion ultimately finished Stage 1 in the fifth position, netting six stage points.

With 12 laps remaining in Stage 2, a caution flew for Trevor Bayne. Johnson restarted eighth and advanced one position to end the stage in seventh.

Both stages of 2018 were the first time in which Johnson gained stage points. He had not finished inside the top-10 of any stage since the Fall race at ISM Raceway last year.

Johnson restarted Stage 3 in seventh, and flirted with falling outside of the top 10 throughout the stage.

Johnson was able to hold on to a ninth-place finish and end a record drought.

Johnson entered Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway with the longest top-10 drought of his career. His most previous top 10 run came at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October.

It has been 28 points-paying races since Johnson has reached Victory Lane (Dover, Spring 2017), the longest stretch of his career in between victories.

Joshua A. Hill/TRE Matt Courson/TRE