DOVER, Del. -- Jimmie Johnson doesn't have to win at Dover International Speedway this weekend, but he's certainly looking forward to going to his happy place.
Johnson won for the 11th time at Dover when he captured the trophy in June. Since then, there has been little to smile about. He has led only six laps and posted just four top-10s in the past 15 races.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver should have little problem advancing to the quarterfinal round of 12, as he has a 32-point cushion on 12th in the standings going into the opening-round, elimination race Sunday afternoon on the 1-mile track.
With finishes of 11th, 12th, eighth, eighth and 14th in the past five races, Johnson doesn't see championship-caliber numbers, but he does see better finishes than in his midsummer slump.
"We need to go to a happy place, and I feel like the last three weeks, we've been managing our own internal expectations and challenges of a race weekend much better," Johnson said. "We had an issue at New Hampshire and crashed [in practice], and it put us in a bit of a hole.
"But we really had a clean day on the race track in performance. We're going in the right direction."
The direction will require more speed. Whether Johnson can find it and challenge for a record eighth Cup title remains a question mark.
"I wish we had a chunk of speed, and it's obvious that there's a couple of cars that have a good advantage on everyone," said Johnson, referring to Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. "We're going to fight to the very end. [Upcoming] tracks like Dover, tracks like Charlotte, our expectations are high, and we hope we can take advantage of our best tracks."
Johnson was speaking Wednesday at an event for breast cancer survivors, part of his sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina's program for its Drive For The Cure 300 Xfinity Series race next week.
The event is a humbling one, a reality check for Johnson, who painted the Charlotte Motor Speedway wall pink alongside those who have battled cancer.
"I had my own little scare with some carcinoma in my shoulder removed earlier this year," Johnson said. "When that c-word is in your vocabulary -- granted mine was at such a small scale compared to this cause -- it still does hit you in a particular way.
"I'm, at the end of the day, just grateful to be here and grateful to pick up the positive energy that always is created through this great cause."
Johnson sounded positive as he tried to talk about his prospects for the remainder of the season. He didn't have a great year last year, got hot at the right time, and worked his way to the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a couple of his competitors crashed out.
"I was probably more surprised than anyone that we could do that in a short period of time," Johnson said "You could argue at Homestead that we didn't have the fastest car and still found a way to get it done.
"There are many ways to win a championship, and we're going to fight as hard as we can and use every resource we can."
But, seriously, can he catch Truex and Busch? While Johnson believes the new generation Chevrolet Camaro will be better for the manufacturer in 2018, he won't go as far as Brad Keselowski in talking about a manufacturer disparity. Johnson knows this week could serve as a motivational boost as he heads to a track where he has an average finish of 9.2 (and 7.4 in the fall event).
"I'm very, very fortunate to be on a team that has had advantages like that," Johnson said. "So, I probably have been more quiet out of the group and chosen to work harder and find a way to get that advantage ourselves because I've been there before.
"You want to enjoy it when you're there because there's nothing like it, and eventually you come down and equalize with everybody and find a way to get back on top."
Johnson said one of the reasons he feels he can get to Homestead is that, while Truex and Busch both drive Toyotas, he hasn't seen the same dominance from others in the Toyota camp.
"There's only two guys it seems with this big advantage," Johnson said. "We want to be the third guy. We want to be in that group. So, we've kept our head down and tried to get there and achieve that.
"It's great that Brad is so vocal and opinionated, and I would encourage him to say more. We're going to stay focused doing our job."