For the first time in his legendary career, Jimmie Johnson will not compete for a championship over the final 10 weeks of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The seven-time champion was eliminated on Sunday during the Brickyard 400, but not without a valiant effort that teased the remote possibility that he could win his way into the Field of 16 in a dramatic walk-off fashion in the regular season finale.
Johnson’s race ended abruptly following a Lap 105 restart when a series of events resulted in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 backing into the outside retaining wall. Kurt Busch slid up the track in front of Johnson and teammate William Byron, forcing them three-wide.
That forced Byron to pinch Johnson on the line, causing the No. 48 to bolt loose and spin, collecting several drivers in a melee.
And just like that, the only driver to have qualified for every playoff format since 2004 will have to watch the 2019 version from the outside. That also means Johnson will finish no better than a career worst 17th in the championship standings.
“We were three-wide going into Turn 2 and I know the No. 24 [Byron] was super tight on me,” Johnson said after a mandatory stop by the infield care center. “I’m not exactly sure how the rest of it unfolded from there but I got sucked around and I was backwards instantly.”
Byron called it a byproduct of one car stacking up those around him.
“I really didn’t have anywhere to go,” Byron said after the race. “Once Kurt slipped by and we were three-wide, I was trying to give him enough room and not slide up in to Jimmie but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough room.”
We go green and right back to caution as @JimmieJohnson goes around and makes hard contact with the outside wall! pic.twitter.com/f7knBP37UE
Johnson was paired with a new crew chief just over a month ago for the final five races of the regular season, and the uptick in performance with Cliff Daniels was immediate.
As was the case last Sunday in the Southern 500, Johnson spent much of the first half in the top-10 before a crash ended his chances to break into the top-16. Had Johnson finished both of these races, it very well could have been enough to have earned the final spot.
Johnson started the Brickyard in fifth and picked up stage points with finishes of sixth and eighth by the midway point of the event. He was inside the top-10 when the crash took place.
“Well, first of all, I think it’s pretty impressive the run we’ve been on to be in the playoffs for this many consecutive years,” Johnson added. “I’m not sure who (else) is close, but I don’t think they’re very close. So, we have that to be proud of. Sure, we wanted it to continue, but the goal is to win races.
“This team is getting stronger each and every week. Cliff Daniels is doing an amazing job of leading this Ally group, and we’re ready to roll. We’ll dust ourselves off and go to Vegas and try to get a trophy.”
And lastly, Johnson believes his run of success with Daniels is sustainable. When asked if his current team can get him back in the mix next year, Johnson immediately provided an affirmative. The 2020 season is the last year of his current contract. He is 43-years-old.
“Absolutely, yes,” he said. “I felt it as soon as we started working together and you’ve seen it on the track. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this season to start building on what we’ve started over the past month or so. We just have to keep plugging away and we’re going to get back to victory lane.”
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