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NASCAR America: A wild card is Jimmie Johnson best chance to advance in the playoffs

As the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin, Jimmie Johnson gives an honest assessment of his regular season and why he considers himself a dark horse for a championship.

By now, everyone is aware that Jimmie Johnson has not had the best season. He hasn’t won since Dover last June and has only two top fives through the first 26 races of the season.

Johnson is the only driver to be in playoff contention all 15 years NASCAR has used that format to determine the championship. He’s been the most successful driver in that era with seven Cups to his credit and his name is always bandied about as one of the contenders.

Until 2018.

This year, Johnson is mentioned only as a dark horse – a fact that the seven-time champion seems oddly comfortable with.

“”It’s just my reality right now,” Johnson told NBC’s Nate Ryan during media day at Las Vegas. “When I look at the 2018 season so far and I look at the second half of 2017, we haven’t led the laps, we haven’t won the races that we’re used to seeing. So I just think it’s the truth. We are the dark horse.”

Johnson has had time to get comfortable with the situation. He crashed and finished 38th at Daytona. He failed to score a top-five finish in the first seven weeks and his single top 10 was a ninth at Auto Club.

“I came to that realization in the spring of this year that we’re just now where we want to be,” Johnson said.

Even though the No. 48 lacked speed, Johnson believes consistency is what got him into the playoffs. He accepts that Round 1 will be difficult, but a combination of consistency and the potential to pull a rabbit out of his hat might allow him to progress through the playoffs.

“I don’t care if you’re a Jimmie Johnson fan … you heard him say the Roval is a wild card,” Kyle Petty said in Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. “The Roval makes Talladega pale as a wild card race anymore. Those are comments he said ... and then in the next breath he says our best shot is the Roval. And what he’s saying is our best shot is a wild card.”

It is difficult to count on a wild card win, but Petty believes the bigger struggle will be in elevating his consistency.

“When you look at it, all the signs point to Jimmie exiting in the first round, because his consistency only got him to 15th in the points,” Petty said.

For more, watch the video above.

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