DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jimmie Johnson is the only NASCAR Cup Series driver to have made the playoffs in every year of his existence. This season, he has one more race to keep that streak alive.
After a 16th-place finish Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Johnson is currently 18th in the standings, 18 points behind the cutoff line.
“We are running out of days, and if we miss it, it’s just going to be by a few (points), I believe,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said. “If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. So, it’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indy. But it is what it is and we are going to go there to win a race.”
The regular-season finale arrives this Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Johnson’s goal of winning the Brickyard 400 is certainly within reach – he’s found Victory Lane in the “crown jewel” event four times in his career, most recently in 2012.
In last weekend’s Southern 500, Johnson looked to close the gap toward the top 16 in the standings as he started the race sixth and finished Stage 1 in second, picking up nine extra points.
Another top-10 finish in Stage 2 gained the driver of the No. 48 Ally Throwback Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 four additional points, and he climbed back inside the top five with fewer than 100 laps remaining in the event.
But a multiple-car incident that was initiated right in front of him caused damage to Johnson’s Chevy, and it ultimately derailed his day. Still, he led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the finish line in 16th, moving from 26 points below the 16-driver cutoff line to 18 points back entering the regular season finale.
“I keep saying that we’re getting better, and tonight we showed it, from the way we qualified to how we ran on those stages,” the driver said. “I was running fourth when that accident took place in Turn 3 and I just had nowhere to go.”
After he climbed out of his car at the end of the race, he lamented the bit of “bad luck” that took him out of a potential top-five finish, but he’s confident in what the No. 48 team will bring to the table in its final shot at making the playoffs this weekend.
“I felt like we could have been a top-three-or-four car and really help ourselves, but it is what it is,” he said. “We’ll go to Indy and see what happens.”