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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – As the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season came to a close, Jimmie Johnson stood by his No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and reflected on a campaign that featured a 15th consecutive trip to the playoffs but fell short of a record eighth Cup Series championship.

“In my Cup career, that is probably the most difficult year that I have had,” the driver said. “I can look back at some other years where I had different challenges of not having a sponsor or maybe not having a ride and dealing with adversity there. As far as having a fully funded, high-quality ride, ’18 was by far the toughest.”

After 16 consecutive seasons with at least one win – the longest streak among active drivers and tied for the third-longest all-time – 2018 was Johnson’s first full-time Cup Series season without a victory.

“I’ve had such a fortunate career and I would have loved to keep that streak alive,” Johnson said. “Instead of reflecting on this year and how bad it was – because I know that reality, I’ve been living it first-hand – I just think it’s important for me and the team right now to look back on what we have done together over 17 years together.”

That’s what Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was all about.

It was the close of a chapter for the No. 48 team, with Chad Knaus atop the pit box for the team for the final time and Lowe’s adorning the hood of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the final time as the team’s primary sponsor.

Next year, Knaus will move to the No. 24 team as the crew chief for William Byron and Ally Financial will join Hendrick Motorsports as a brand-new, full-season primary sponsor for Johnson and the No. 48 team.

Sunday, Johnson found himself contemplating everything he, Knaus and Lowe’s accomplished together as a team over 17 seasons.

“Especially pre-race,” the driver said. “Getting bolted in the car, kind of our routine through the different steps there, the reality of today setting in. During the race you just kind of get back in the rhythm of things and just raced along, but I made sure we had a cooler of beer just to have one quick beer with the guys and Chad and a big toast to say thank you.”

Even in a tough year, Johnson’s 15th consecutive playoff appearance maintained his position as the only driver to make the playoffs in every year of their existence.

He closed the year with a top-15 finish at Homestead, and now the seven-time champion’s sights are set on next year, when he’ll look to bounce back to meet the lofty standard he has set for himself throughout his career.

“The season is behind us now and I look forward to a good offseason and getting geared up for 2019,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do as a company. I’ve got a lot of work to do with my new team, we’ve got a lot of work to do with this new package and we’ve got to come out stronger.”

“I’m looking forward to that fresh start.”