CONCORD, N.C. -- Could this be Jimmie Johnson's last time racing in the DAYTONA 500?
The 44-year-old driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE is on the eve of his final full-time season, meaning it would take some special circumstances for him to compete in "The Great American Race" after 2020.
However, he indicated that he's taken a "never say never" approach to possibly returning to the DAYTONA 500 and other races, much like Jeff Gordon did when he retired from full-time racing.
"I know for a fact that it's my last full-time year in NASCAR, so I still have a desire to compete and I look forward to what (2021) and beyond brings, and I would not rule out coming back if the right opportunity existed to come back to the Cup Series," Johnson said. "If Rick (Hendrick) needed me to fill in ... this isn't a hard out. I'm not done racing. I am done with 38 weekends a year."
Despite closing this chapter of his career, Johnson said he's at peace with his decision, which prompted the seven-time Cup Series champion to change his social media hashtag from #Chasing8 to #OneFinalTime.
"My ultimate goal this year ... is just about being present," Johnson said. "I'm going to get in that car, I'm going to give 100 percent as I always do - who knows what the outcome is going to be? I'm going to lay it on the line and go and I'm not chasing anything. I'm going to try and be present and just be me."
Even though Johnson has nearly two decades of Cup Series racing under his belt, he said winning the DAYTONA 500 is an experience that can't be replicated. Johnson has won the race twice - first in 2006 and then in 2013.
"It's one of two tracks that you get a title for winning," Johnson said. "... When I won in (2006), all year long that's how it was announced, and it was so apparent to me how big that race is. It didn't matter the interview I did or where I went, (I was the) DAYTONA 500 winning driver. It's just a huge title and a huge race."
Johnson said he's expecting 2020 to be one of his best years, and a large part has to do with how he felt "embarrassed" after struggling during the 2019 season and how the changes with his pit crew affected him.
"When I look at '19, as tough as it was, it really was a huge year of growth for me," Johnson said. "Making the decision to not work with Chad (Knaus) any longer, bringing Kevin (Meendering) on, working with Kevin, working through the mindset that we need a change, (then) bringing Cliff (Daniels) on. It wasn't fun. At all.
"I hate that part of the job, but I learned a lot. This team learned a lot. I think (Hendrick) learned a lot. So there is something positive that came from all of that. Sadly, (I) missed the playoffs and experienced all of those frustrations, but I hope to look back after 2020 and say, 'You know what? (2019) set me up to have the year I wanted to have as my final one.'"