Jimmie Johnson says age has nothing to do with sluggish start

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmie Johnson has a message for anyone thinking that the 42-year-old Jimmie Johnson doesn't race as well as the Johnson in his 30s.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has seen enough criticism on social media amid his team's poor results to open the 2018 season that he feels the need to defend his age.

"It's just bull," Johnson said of the criticism Friday after qualifying at ISM (formerly Phoenix) Raceway. "Plain and simple. Age has nothing to do with it."

The Hendrick Motorsports driver sits 29th in the NASCAR Cup standings after three races. He will start 17th Sunday after a qualifying session in which he posted the fastest speed in the opening round but then was 17th in the second round.

"My desire to perform has been questioned through social media," Johnson said. "I know that I've got to take the good with the bad that I see on there, and I am active on social media, but when I saw enough of that, I felt like I needed to put some statements out.

"People don't have a chance to see how hard I work and how hard this team works. They only see the results. I can understand where some of it comes from, and I just want to make crystal clear that age and desire were not behind any of it."

Johnson, who has won two Cup titles since his five-championship run from 2006 to 2010, had tweeted after Kevin Harvick's win Sunday at Las Vegas:

He then responded to someone saying he was sensitive:

There could be a good reason why Johnson will start midpack at the Phoenix track. Because his team failed prerace technical inspection three times prior to Las Vegas, Johnson had only 20 minutes of practice instead of the 50 minutes the rest of the field had Friday morning.

"We didn't get a scuff [tire] run in practice, and I think there's a lot in that," Johnson said. "That's a bummer. ... We did a great job tuning it up for stickers [tires] for that first round, and unfortunately I think a lack of practice time kind of got the best of us."

There's reason to hope for a better weekend. Johnson's teammates all qualified well -- Chase Elliott will start third, Alex Bowman will start fourth and William Byron will start 11th. None have had great starts to the year, as Bowman is 17th in the standings, Elliott is 21st and Byron 24th.

"My teammates are doing an amazing job behind the wheels of their cars and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is working as hard and together as I've ever seen it," Johnson said.

"We're not where we want to be. But we'll get there."