CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson knew finding Victory Lane Sunday at Phoenix was his only real path to the Championship 4.
And he was prepared for a battle.
“I anticipated this being a really scrappy race until the end,” Johnson said. “We had good speed. I know I wasn’t leading the race, but my lap times compared to the leaders was respectable. With some strategy or opportunities and we had clean air on the front, I think we had a shot at it.”
That’s what made a blown tire in Stage 2 of the race that much more jarring.
The No. 48 team had put in so much effort to prepare for the challenge at hand, and Johnson wouldn’t have a chance to race all the way to the checkered flag.
“To blow a right-front like that is pretty disappointing,” the driver said. “I didn’t know it was coming. Clearly just got the brakes too hot and popped that tire.”
The tire issue sent the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS toward the wall, and the resulting damage was enough to send Johnson to the garage, ending his day before the final segment could begin.
“I hate it for this team,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into the whole season, especially the last couple of weeks, and I just feel terrible that we didn’t get better results than what we have had. A huge thanks to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for their efforts, support from Lowe’s, Kobalt Tools and Chevrolet.”
Hopes were high, but Johnson knew it was going to take even more than the top-10 result the No. 48 team put together in Stage 1 of the Phoenix race. The No. 48 Chevy was running 11th in Stage 2 prior to the blown tire.
“We weren’t leading, we were having a decent day – but we were going to need a great day,” he acknowledged. “Unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to make eight (championships) this year.”
“We will go to Homestead and try to win one more and then get ready for next year.”