Sitting negative in points is not a position Jimmie Johnson is at all familiar with.
But after a 42nd-place showing in the Daytona 500 coupled with a 25-point penalty from NASCAR for illegal modifications made to his car prior to Daytona 500 qualifying, the five-time champ finds himself in the red entering this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
"It is certainly not a position we want to be in," Johnson said Friday when he met with reporters. "But there is a lot of racing between now and September (for the Chase cutoff). Right now, we are focused on doing the best job we can and getting as many points as we possibly can."
Helping ease the concern is how well the 48 team has responded to and thrived over the years when faced with adversity.
While the points margin is daunting, it is not insurmountable. Particularly considering NASCAR's wild card format, which awards Chase spots to the two drivers who have won the most races and are ranked inside the top 20 in points.
When asked if his strategy might change in order to recoup some of the points he lost, both in the 500 and the penalty from NASCAR, Johnson didn't waver.
"No, no strategy change," Johnson said. "The end result is winning races. The worst-case scenario would be fighting for a wild card spot, and that boils down to winning races. It is no different than if we won the Daytona 500. We want to go to the race track and perform as well as we can each and every week and win races. That is our agenda."
Johnson also was steadfast in his support of crew chief Chad Knaus, the man who has guided him to five Sprint Cup championships – this despite Knaus' continued run-ins with NASCAR and facing his third suspension for a rules violation.
"There is a lot of work that goes into these race cars," Johnson said. "I have all the confidence in the world and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 48 team and across the board. We are building race cars to go to the race track and win races with. I believe in our system, I believe in my team, I believe in my guys. It is what it is. We are here to race and win the race this weekend."
When asked to speculate whether Knaus' reputation for pushing the limits of what's legal played a part in NASCAR's decision-making process, Johnson deferred to officials.
"That would require me speculating," he said. "I'm just not in a position to do that. You will have to take that question up with NASCAR."
If Knaus' appeal is denied and he is forced to sit out for six weeks, Johnson has little concern the crew chief's absence would greatly impact the team he leads. As for whether this latest indiscretion may taint what he and his team have accomplished, Johnson was adamant his team plays within the rules.
"Whatever ends up happening post-appeal, I have a lot of confidence in Hendrick Motorsports and the depth we have in our organization," Johnson said. "We will respond to whatever we need to then.
"Right now, again, I'm focused on Phoenix and we will move on from here and deal with things as they come up."