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Jimmie Johnson says he “never worked so hard in my life to get such little return” as he did in the failed defence of his seventh NASCAR Cup series title.
Johnson is the only Cup driver to have made the playoffs in every season since the format began under the Chase title in 2004, but he dropped out at the ’round of eight’ stage in ’17 after his form plummeted.
Having won three races in the first four months of 2017, he then made the top six just more after his Dover victory in June.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver says he tried everything to reverse that form.
“We kept hoping every stone we turned over would help us find our problem,” Johnson said.
“What was so frustrating is I’ve never worked so hard in my life to get such little return.
“I know Chad [Knaus, crew chief] can say the same and the team can. The efforts they put in, just mind-boggling.
“I’m so happy I have a group of guys to do that, to do anything possible. It’s just so frustrating when you don’t get anything for it. So that was tough.”
Johnson says that disappointment meant finding motivation for 2018 and his hunt for a record-breaking eighth Cup title was easy.
“After a few weeks of the off-season, [it was a case of] letting that kind of fall off your shoulders, get recharged and ready to go,” he said.
“It’s been easy to find motivation for 2018. With all the change that’s going on, it’s a race to figure out this mousetrap first. That’s what we like to do.”
Hendrick’s partner Chevrolet is introducing a new Cup car this season, when changes to NASCAR’s technical inspection process are also expecting to test teams.
Johnson goes into the year as by far the most experienced of Hendrick’s four drivers.
Since 2015 the team has lost Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr as they retired from full-time racing, and dropped race-winner Kasey Kahne.
It begins this season with Johnson, third-year Cup racer Chase Elliott, rookie Xfinity Series champion William Byron and former Earnhardt illness stand-in Alex Bowman – who is yet to contest a full Cup season with a top team.