NASCAR racing superstar-turned-TV-analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. says Jimmie Johnson can win races and contend in this year's Cup Series playoffs if he can clean up his "mental mistakes".
Johnson was within half a lap of winning Stage 1 on NASCAR's racing return at Darlington Speedway, in the Real Heroes 400, when he crashed into the rear end of Chris Buescher's Ford and spun his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy in the wall.
After being checked over at the medical centre, Johnson said: "Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back to do it over again."
Stewart Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick eased to victory at Darlington as the NASCAR Cup Series returned to action for the first time since March following the coronavirus postponements.
Speaking on NBC's NASCAR America at Home show, Earnhardt believes seven-time champion Johnson just has to "dial it back a bit" to become a winner again. The last of Johnson's 83 Cup Series race wins came at Dover in 2017.
"If he can clean up those mental mistakes, dial it back a little bit, have faith in his car for the duration for the race and put races together, he'll not only win races but have a real opportunity to play a role in the Playoffs later in the season," Earnhardt said.
Fellow analyst, the former champion crew chief Steve Letarte, agreed with Earnhardt's standpoint and believes Johnson is simply trying too hard.
"When you get a star that's in a slump, they almost try too hard. That was Jimmie Johnson, trying too hard with one lap to go in a stage," said Letarte.
"He's only won a handful of stages since stage racing has begun... Jimmie was the guy when we chased him that never made mistakes. You had to beat him. He didn't beat himself.
"What Jimmie Johnson did was eliminate his chances in the first stage. That's not very Jimmie Johnson-esque.
"What I saw up until that mistake is a team and a driver that can win a race. The question has been, can he win a race in this final year? From what I saw, it would be, 'yes'."