The six-time series champion hasn’t led a lap since Michigan seven races ago, however, and has not visited Victory Lane his last 14 starts. For most teams, a 14-race winless streak is standard operating procedure. But for Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led team, double digit droughts have been few and far between over the years.
“I’m ready to get going,” said Johnson, who won three of four races in late May and early June. “These three tracks should be a lot of fun. The first two, I feel that we really have a good chance. We have a good chance of winning at all three, but the first two would make the third race of the ‘Contender’ round (at Talladega Superspeedway) much more enjoyable.
“The way the structure of the Chase is, you can go all the way through and not win a race,” he said. “You’ve just got to play the cards that are dealt to you. The way the first round went for us, it was forgiving. We had three quality races, but no wins.”
Johnson said he and his Lowe’s Chevrolet team have set a high premium on winning at either Kansas or Charlotte, to avoid putting themselves behind the eight-ball at Talladega.
“I’d love to get a win this weekend or next to eliminate the Talladega thing,” he said. “You have to collect as many points as you can, each and every week. If you can have two solid weeks here, a crash at Talladega might not hurt you as bad. But the best way to avoid any concerns at Talladega is to win. One (of us), maybe two, will have that opportunity. But the other 10 Chasers will show up over there with a lot of pressure just to get to the checkered flag.
“Winning is great,” Johnson said. “There is so much upside to winning; clearly the trophy and clearly the fact that you advance (to the next round of the Chase). But most important is the message you send in the garage area. All of that matters.”
The Hendrick Motorsports driver said Kansas Speedway “has been slowly losing that newly paved, tough-track-to-get-ahold-of thing that goes on. Hopefully, we can move the groove out, (but) it doesn’t look like the temperatures are going to be all that hot to encourage that.
“In some respects, I look back on our spring race and think, `Okay, we’ve got a good foundation to start from.’ But with the new rules package in play, things have just moved on down the road. So, we’re really coming back -- it feels like to me -- for the first time this year.
“The 1.5-mile tracks are our bread and butter,” admitted the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion. “They’ve really been a strong suit for the No. 48 over the years. This year, we’ve been competitive, but not dominant. And that’s what we’re looking to get sorted out here, late in the season. We can run well, but we would prefer to have more control than we do right now. With as many 1.5-miles that are left on the schedule, we’ve got to get there.
“As the Chase goes on, the importance of winning gets higher and higher. When you get to Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, you need to be knocking on that door (and) be the guy standing there in Victory Lane. As we get closer to Homestead, I think the intensity for the Chasers is going to start multiplying a bunch.
“I think it starts here. With Talladega at the end of this block, the pressure is really going to start ramping up for everybody.”