THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Sluggish Johnson trying to accelerate out of slump and regain dominance

By Will Graves
Associated Press / June 6, 2010

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LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson hears the buzz. It’s been kind of hard to avoid during the four-time defending NASCAR champion’s recent slide.

A single top-10 finish in five races. Two crashes. Some bad racing luck. Driver error. No wins since early spring. Do the performances fail to meet the impossibly high standard Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports team has set for itself during its record-setting run? Sure.

Are they proof that the cracks in Johnson’s dominance are finally starting to show? Not exactly.

“You read the headlines and it’s like the No. 48 team is shutting down,’’ Johnson said.

Hardly.

Johnson sits seventh in points heading into today’s 500-mile race at Pocono, where he’ll start 25th at the 2.5-mile oval. Halfway through NASCAR’s regular season, it would take a series of major catastrophes for him to miss out on the Chase.

Still, even Johnson admits he has not exactly been at his coolly efficient best of late.

“I’ve always had that good rhythm of walking that tightrope, and you step over it from time to time,’’ he said. “Lately I’ve been stepping on the wrong side of that line.’’

He did it twice last weekend at Charlotte, where a pair of wrecks sent him retreating to the garage.

It was just the latest in a series of mishaps that have taken some of the steam out of Johnson’s start, when he won three of the first five races and filled the rest of the series with a sense of “here we go again’’ dread.

Yet Johnson hasn’t been back to Victory Lane since taking the checkered flag at Bristol March 21.

Johnson survived a similar lull last summer, when he managed just one top-10 in six races. There was the 14-race winless streak in 2007. The forgettable two months in 2006 in which he didn’t even crack the top 10. All of those seasons ended in championships.

If Johnson is concerned, it doesn’t show. He’s too busy racing.

He zipped around the Tricky Triangle for a couple of hours yesterday morning, then hopped in a car to get to Watkins Glen to drive in the Six Hours at the Glen for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.