CONCORD, N.C. – With the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season in the rear-view mirror, all eyes are now on a fresh start in the 2019 campaign.
“2018 was probably my most difficult year since I’ve been with Hendrick Motorsports,” Jimmie Johnson said. “Probably very close to the most difficult year I’ve had in my professional career. But all that said, I feel like I learned more from those challenging moments.
“I look forward to the new challenges ahead, and at some point, being able to reflect back on 2018 and see those periods of growth that came from that.”
Let’s take a look back at Johnson’s 2018 campaign.
This season, Johnson reached an impressive milestone – 600 career starts in the NASCAR Cup Series.
He made the milestone start at Pocono Raceway, and is just the 30th driver in Cup Series history to reach that elusive number. Ten of those drivers – including Johnson – have raced for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’m not huge into milestones but I really can’t believe I am sitting here at 600 starts,” Johnson said at the time. “All I ever wanted to do was win a race and now we are here with seven championships, 83 wins and hopefully there are many more to come.”
Those 83 wins put Johnson in elite company. Not only is he tied for the sixth-most all-time, he also already has the third-most wins through a driver’s first 600 starts.
On the list, he’s surrounded by NASCAR Hall of Famers. Richard Petty leads the way, having earned 150 wins through 600 starts. He’s followed by Darrell Waltrip with 84, Johnson is at 83 and Jeff Gordon is fourth with 82.
PERFECT PLAYOFF RECORD
When the 2018 regular season came to an end, Johnson had once again secured his position in NASCAR’s 16-driver playoffs – his 15th trip to the postseason.
He remains the only driver to have made the Cup Series playoffs in every year of its existence.
“I’m just proud that I’ve made every playoff since NASCAR has started them, so that’s a big honor for me,” he said.
He clinched his playoff berth on points this season. In the 15 years with a playoff system, Johnson has earned a series-leading 29 wins in playoff races – more than double of any other driver.
WIN STREAK COMES TO AN END
The fact that Johnson made the playoffs without a win in 2018 speaks to the seven-time champion’s consistency on the racetrack. But the winless season put an end to his 16-year streak with at least one victory.
“I’ve had such a fortunate career and I would have loved to keep that streak alive,” the driver said.
“I do know that we have not left anything on the table and poured everything we can into it.”
Though he did not win in 2018, Johnson’s streak of 16 consecutive seasons with at least one win tied for the third-longest in Cup Series history.
“Sadly, we just didn’t get the results in 2018,” he said. “Not only am I hungry, but our entire company is hungry to make sure 2019 is right.”
CLOSE OF A CHAPTER
When the checkered flag waved at Homestead-Miami Speedway to conclude the 2018 season, it marked the final race for Johnson and Chad Knaus as a driver-crew chief duo on the No. 48 team.
Next season, Knaus will serve as the crew chief for the No. 24 team and driver William Byron. Kevin Meendering will step into the role of No. 48 team crew chief.
"Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history," Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said. "They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. What they’ve accomplished together has been absolutely remarkable and will be celebrated for generations.”
Over 17 years together, Johnson and Knaus compiled more than 600 starts together, earning 81 wins – the second-most all-time behind Richard Petty and crew chief Dale Inman – and a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, including a record five straight.
“Those guys love each other,” Hendrick said of Johnson and Knaus. “At the same time, I think you need something fresh. I think both of them need a challenge more than just (championship) number eight.
“I think this gives everybody involved a new challenge.”
And both Johnson and Knaus said they’re excited to tackle those challenges. “My dedication, my focus, my desire to compete has never been higher or more intense,” Johnson said. “The season is behind us now and I look forward to a good offseason and getting geared up for 2019.”