Jimmie Johnson has not led a lap in nearly two months, which speaks volumes about Johnson's struggle to capture a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
As the series prepares for its next race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Johnson is 12th in points among the 12 drivers still eligible for the championship under NASCAR's new format for its 10-race Chase for the Cup playoff.
It's a format that knocks out four drivers after every third race, so only four will remain in contention at the season finale. Four have been eliminated so far and four more will be cut after the Oct. 19 race at Talladega, Ala., which follows the Charlotte race.
Drivers who win under the new format automatically advance, followed by those highest in points. So Johnson, who hasn't won since mid-June, almost has to win at Charlotte or Talladega to avoid being eliminated and keep his title hopes alive.
"The mindset is really to come in and try to take a trophy out of here," Johnson, 39, told reporters Thursday at the Charlotte speedway. To advance on points "is a fading chance," he said.
Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, certainly is at the right track to reverse his fortunes. He's won a record seven times at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway oval, most recently in May, and some have nicknamed the track "Jimmie's House."
"We are certainly hoping that when we come to tracks that have been very good for the No. 48, that we're able to find that little bit" of extra speed, he said.
"We are just not where we want to be," Johnson said. "We're working very hard to get there. This sport is not forgiving. What you have accomplished in the past doesn't buy you a damn thing for the present."
The high-speed, high-banked Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR's longest track at 2.66 miles, is known for multicar crashes that can ruin a Chase contender's day.
"It's just hiding out there waiting for us," Johnson said of the track. "You just can't predict what's going to happen. That's the wild thing about Talladega."