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For Jimmie Johnson, a simple homecoming was enough to get his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season back on track.

The El Cajon, California, native has endured a Murphy’s Law season thus far, entering the weekend 25th in the championship standings. In fact, he was also in the midst of his longest streak without a top-10, going 10 straight races until breaking though with a ninth-place finish on Sunday in the Auto Club 400.

That streak dated back to the 2017 playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Yeah, each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said after the race. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now but we are seeing the improvements, we have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better and we are getting more competitive.

“So, a strong day for the Lowe’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.  We are not where we want to be but we are getting closer every week.”

This is an important stretch for Johnson as Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville Speedway are his two best statistical tracks. Johnson now has 17 top-10 finishes in 24 starts at the 2-mile track located two hours north from his hometown.

“It just seemed like we had more durability with that left side tire on lower tire pressures,” Johnson said. “I don’t believe we had any issues relative to that, and that is something we are always scared of here, especially on green flag stops when those tire pressures are low. We didn’t have that today, but we had some great pit stops, Chad (Knaus) called a great race, and we had a good solid day — so we will take it.”

Johnson is still just 18th in the championship standings. Hendrick Motorsports has shown signs of life over the past two weeks, but is still a far cry from the organization that powered Johnson to seven championships over the past 12 years.

Like all Chevrolet teams, Hendrick has struggled to adapt to the new Camaro Zl1, but the 42-year-old is starting to feel optimistic. And with Martinsville next on the schedule, Johnson could be just seven days away from returning to the championship forefront. He leads all active drivers with nine victories at the Virginia short track, and a 10th would complete the comeback narrative.

Jimmie Johnson needs a new sponsor and plans to be involved in the process

Matt Weaver

Matt Weaver

– Matt Weaver is an associate motorsports editor at Autoweek. Before becoming a journalist, he was a dirt track racer and short track cheeseburger connoisseur.

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