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Johnson making uncharacteristic mistakes

LOUDON, N.H. - Jimmie Johnson hasn't hit his stride - yet.

Despite getting off to a solid start in his quest for a record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, things haven't gone exactly the way Johnson would like.

'I'm real happy with the speed in the cars,' the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 'But, unlike other years, we've made more mistakes as a team.'

Pit stops were one of the areas he cited in lamenting missed opportunities.

'At Michigan we were leading the race and ran out of gas (and finished 22nd),' he said. 'At Pocono we were in really good position there (and finished seventh). I look at Phoenix, where Mark (Martin) won earlier in the year, and we had some issues we overcame there and we were the fastest car, but didn't pull it off (finishing fourth). We lost that race because of mistakes we made.'

Johnson has two wins and is third in the points heading into Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301, but didn't absolve himself from making some uncharacteristic mistakes.

'Like last week, I got nailed for speeding on pit road (at Sonoma),' he said. 'I've made plenty of mistakes like that this year. I've crashed a couple of cars that I shouldn't have.'

So why all the slip-ups from a driver like Johnson, who tied Cale Yarborough's record of three straight Cup titles and has never finished worse than fifth in the points in his first seven seasons?

'We're all human,' he said. 'I would say more than anything, it's just trying too hard.

'In a lot of cases, for myself, there's a sweet spot that I've been able to hit at times and, a lot of times when I'm not performing, it's because I'm trying too hard. ... It's just one little hiccup from time to time that takes us out of contention for the win. We still finish well, but we've got to stop making mistakes.'

With Friday's qualifying rained out, the 43-car race field was set by car owner points. That means Johnson will start third, behind series leader Tony Stewart and Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon.

'I think we can be better than where we're at, but I'm very happy to see the progress,' Johnson said. 'We've been cleaning up things over the course of the year and I think we're going to be just right when the Chase starts.'

That's not good news for the rest of the Cup competitors, but Stewart isn't worried.

'I look at it this way: How scary is it for them that a new team is leading the points?' Stewart said, grinning. 'And that's no disrespect to them, but we feel we've got room to gain."