SPEEDWAY, Ind. – For the first time since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Jimmie Johnson will not be a part of the hunt for a championship.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion had made the playoffs in 15 consecutive seasons, but for just the second time in his career, he entered the final race of the season not locked into playoff contention.
Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he earned extra points with top-10 finishes in both of the first two stages, but a multiple-car incident at the start of the final segment caused damage to the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that ultimately ended the driver’s day – and opportunity to race his way into the playoffs.
“Certainly disappointing,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we had about 25 races that led to the position that we were in today. We needed a stellar day and I think we were having a strong day. Just really proud of my team and where we’re at and what’s been going on.”
The incident occurred shortly after the green flag waved to begin the final stage, and Johnson found himself racing three-wide going into a turn.
“The (No.) 1 car had a little trouble on the restart, I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight,” he explained. “Unfortunate that it happened – certainly not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go any lower below the white line and kind of got snipped there and turned around.”
The damage sent him to the garage and cemented that he would not join his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman in this year’s playoffs.
It ended his impressive postseason streak, but Johnson didn’t let Sunday’s result take away from what he had accomplished to that point.
“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,” he said. “I’m not sure who’s close, but I don’t think they’re very close. So, we have that to be proud of. Sure, we wanted to continue it on. But the goal is to win a race.”
In four of the last five races, Johnson has earned a top-10 starting spot in qualifying, and he’s been proud of the work the No. 48 team has put into each and every race as they chased down a playoff spot, even though the finishing positions haven’t always reflected the strength of the runs.
“I can’t wait to have the results start showing up,” the driver said. “Months ago it was tough because we couldn’t really get anything going our way. Now we have the optimism of strong qualifying sessions, strong race cars in races – just need to get to the finish line.”
For the next 10 races, even though he’s not among the 16 cars competing for a championship in the playoffs, Johnson’s goal remains the same – to be the first car to the checkered flag.
And he has faith that the No. 48 team has what it takes to make that happen.
“This team is getting stronger each and every week,” he said. “(No. 48 team crew chief) Cliff Daniels is doing an amazing job leading this group of allies, and we’re ready to roll. So, we’ll dust ourselves off and go to Vegas and try to get a trophy.”