There is no doubt defending series champion Jimmie Johnson has been the class of the field over the last 10 races in each of the past five years. Despite the No. 48's struggles throughout the regular season, Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led team have always been able to perform at their best in the Chase and emerge on top.
Yet this Chase has seen a different side of the No. 48 team in the first two races. After running out of fuel at the end the Chase opener at Chicagoland, Johnson sat eighth in points. Now, after a disappointing day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Johnson is 10th in points – the lowest he has ever been in the Chase.
"We didn't have a car like we thought we would," Johnson said after his 18th-place finish. "Today it just didn't have the speed and track position was so important. Some pit calls didn't work out our way. We'll take this one on the chin and go on to the next one."
Throughout the day, Johnson was aggressive on the track and even confrontational with Knaus on the radio, saying at one point his cheer leading was "annoying" and not helpful.
That aggressiveness almost bit the defending champion late in the race when he made contact multiple times with fellow Chase driver Kyle Busch. Running underneath the No. 18 car, Johnson damaged the right front fender and lost a number of spots in the closing laps.
Johnson believed Busch should have given him a bit more room on the bottom, but said he was "not trying to wreck me, he was just being kind of stubborn" at the end of the race.
"I think track position was really important and he was just racing really hard, which is what he's supposed to do," Johnson said of the incident with Busch, which he called "the end of a bad day."
Now facing a 29-point deficit to Tony Stewart, Johnson is relying on his team's experience at winning five consecutive championships to get back in contention for his sixth.
"You've just got to take every race as they come. You never know what's going to happen," he said. "We lost the points lead due to a wreck on the last lap at Talladega and still came back and won. Anything can happen, but things like this aren't what you hope for."