When it comes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, there are few better than Jimmie Johnson. He is the five-time defending champion, after all.
But this season, Johnson has only one victory and has battled inconsistency on pit road and on the race track. With three races before the Chase field is set, Johnson is a near lock in the 12-driver field but admits this season has been tough at times.
"Mentally (it) has been challenging at times this year, trying to find speed," he said. "When we've been off (in the past like in 2008), we've been able to go test and sort through our problems. It's been a very tough exercise this year without testing to develop our cars and find the speed."
Thanks to NASCAR's ban on testing, crew chief Chad Knaus and the entire No. 48 team have had to troubleshoot their issues through other methods. Although he has been frustrated with the process of finding speed in the car, Johnson said the biggest issue the team has faced throughout the year has been the inconsistency from week to week.
One of the chief reasons for that inconsistency has been a lack of reliability on pit road. With a depth chart of crew members earning their spot each week, Johnson admitted the crew has worked hard to shore up their issues earlier in the season, saying they have "made up a lot of distance" in a short amount of time.
Despite the challenges they have faced over the first 23 races of the season, Johnson says the team is looking at the final 10-race Chase as a brand new season.
"This year has been odd for everything," he said. "Guys have been warm for a period of time, no one has really been hot and stayed hot. I think this year's Chase is up for grabs. It's going to be an interesting 10 races."