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 in five races. Two crashes. Some bad racing luck. Driver error. No victories 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-breaking 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.
Johnson sits seventh in points heading into Sunday's 500-mile race at Pocono, where he'll start 25th at the massive 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's 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 retreating to the garage. He gamely headed back to the track after repairs, though the sight of Johnson running a dinged up car 35 laps behind the leaders at a place where he's won six times bordered on the bizarre.
It was just the latest in a series of mishaps that have taken some of the steam out of Johnson's start, when