Everybody loves a fresh start, a do-over to make things right.

Isn’t that right, Jimmie Johnson?

Mr. Six-Time faded into Mr. Irrelevant as the NASCAR Sprint Cup season rolled along. Despite early-season victories in Atlanta and Fontana, Johnson has chugged along.

But lately, there’s been a little bit of life, if not mojo.

His 12th-place finish at Chicago on Sunday follows an 11th-place finish at Richmond. And while it is still just outside Top 10 territory, at least the needle is pointing in the right direction.

But what could have been will bother Johnson for a while. He was popped for speeding as he left pit road after his final green-flag stop this past weekend, costing him a chance at a victory.

“We are digging,” he said after the race. “I just can’t believe I got in trouble down there leaving the pits. I feel terrible for these guys. It should have been a top-five day, but I will back down pit road even more and try not to make that mistake. … I just screwed up.”

Johnson had the dominant car of the day, leading four times for a race-high 118 laps. It’s easy to go to the dark side and scream that Johnson screwed this up. There’s also the disconcerting fact about a speeding penalty at Richmond the previous week. Is he on course or going off the rails?

“It’s stuff that’s uncharacteristic of them,” said Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds.

But it’s better to catch your breath, gather perspective and see a glimmer of hope for Johnson moving forward as he chases his seventh Cup title.

He’s eighth among the 16 Chase qualifiers, right in the middle and a comfortable spot for the moment unless his car’s postrace-inspection failure costs him points.

The schedule takes everyone to New Hampshire this weekend, where Johnson has won three times, tying him for most victories among qualifiers, including Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Tony Stewart.

Then it’s onto Dover, one of Johnson’s best tracks. Johnson has 10 – not a typo, 10 – victories at the Monster Mile, which is a record. It also happens to be the first Chase cutoff point when the field will be whittled from 16 to 12.

“Hell, I’d rather be dominating and be on top and be the top pick,” Johnson said during Chase media day last week. “I don’t like where we’re at. We’re working hard. There’s a lot of optimism and a lot of great things happening. We just need to deliver consistently and execute at the track.

“The way that the Chase works, if we can run in the top five and stay alive and make it to Homestead, you know, we do have some time to sort things out and get back to where we need to be.”

Mr. Six-Time isn’t out of the woods yet. But at least he seems to have found a compass, and it’s pointing in the right direction.