CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson knew as the playoffs began that the first round would be one of the toughest of the entire postseason.
One race in, that uncertainty remains.
“I don’t know how next week is going to go – I really don’t,” the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 said of the upcoming Richmond Raceway event. “And I sure as heck don’t know how the ROVAL is going to go.”
Still, the first race of the round was full of positives for the No. 48 team – with the exception of the final result.
Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson took a 17th-place starting position and turned it into a potential top-five finish.
Racing inside of the top 10 for the vast majority of Stage 2 and the final segment, Johnson picked up seven extra points for a fourth-place Stage 2 finish and was running fifth once again with fewer than 25 laps to go in the race.
But contact with a competitor caused a flat tire on the No. 48 Chevy in the closing laps, forcing Johnson to pit road and ultimately leaving the driver with a 22nd-place finish.
“Today was a really good day for the Lowe’s team,” he said. “We had good speed in the car, good pit stops – everything was going well. Unfortunately, cut a right-front tire when we touched the No. 41 off of Turn 2.”
One silver lining for Johnson and the No. 48 team was that several other playoff drivers experienced issues or were caught up in incidents.
“It helps, but we could have closed with a top-five finish that would have really helped and given us a cushion,” he said. “So, sure, we finished higher than some guys, but any cushion we could have gotten today would have been nice.”
The tough battling at the end of the race that resulted in the flat tire wasn’t a surprise to Johnson, who now ranks 13th in the playoff standings, six points behind the cutoff line.
“Playoffs, man,” he said. “It means so much to everybody to be in the playoffs and have a shot at a championship. Everybody is just trying really hard.”