The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will not be the season where seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will compete for a record-setting eighth title in his 19th and final full-time season of racing. Though Johnson kept himself and the No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team in contention for both the win and an opportunity to make the postseason, it all came to a crashing halt with two laps remaining after a multi-car wreck prevented the El Cajon, California, native from making the cutoff as one of 16 competitors vying for the 2020 title.
Starting seventh, Johnson came into the regular-season finale at Daytona trailing the top-16 cutline by four points and following a strong doubleheader weekend at Dover International Speedway while vowing to give it his all to make the postseason for his team. Throughout the race, Johnson raced competitively within a bevy of Chevrolet competitors in the draft, among which included teammate William Byron, who was competing against Johnson for a postseason berth and who had Chad Knaus, Johnson’s former crew chief, atop Byron’s pit box.
Following the first stage spanning 50 laps, Johnson was able to make a late charge towards the front to finish in fifth place ahead of Byron and Matt DiBenedetto. By then, with Clint Bowyer securing one of three spots to this year’s Playoffs, Johnson was still trailing DiBenedetto and Byron in the points standings.
Following the second stage and after 100 laps, Johnson notched another fifth-place result and finished ahead of DiBenedetto and Byron on track again. On this occasion, with Byron failing to secure a stage point from the second stage while Johnson did, Johnson moved back into the top-16 cutline by a small margin over Byron.
Throughout the final stage, Johnson continued to battle his way back into the cutline. With eight laps remaining, he was able to dodge a multi-car wreck. With two laps remaining, however, he was unable to dodge another multi-car wreck that ignited at the front. After being hit by Matt Kenseth across the Turn 1 outside wall and spinning down across Turn 2, Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE sustained significant damage on all ends of his car.
Despite the damage, the No. 48 crew went to work to repair Johnson’s car to keep him on the lead lap and with a last-stretch opportunity to make the Playoffs. During overtime, however, teammate William Byron secured a postseason berth after claiming his first Cup career win at Daytona while Matt DiBenedetto claimed the final spot to the Playoffs after finishing 12th. Johnson, however, came across the line in 17th place and was left on the outside of the cutline by a mere six points.
The end result marked the second time in Johnson’s 19-year racing career where he will not qualify for the Cup Playoffs after he missed the Playoffs last season following a wreck during the regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I really felt like we had a way to transfer, to win or point our way in the way it went the first two stages,” Johnson said on NBC. “Things just got ugly down in Turn 1. Unfortunate, but that’s plate racing. We had a really good car. The last couple of months, we we’ve been really getting our act together and running well. Definitely disappointed to not be in the Playoffs. That was the number one goal to start the year.”
Since the drop of the green flag for the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 in February through the regular-season finale at Daytona in August, Johnson recorded four top-five results and nine top-10 results. He missed his first race since 2001 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July after COVID-19 symptoms kept him out of the car and competing. Despite the one-race absence, Johnson was granted a waiver to make the Playoffs should he gain enough points to move into the top-16 cutline, which he nearly did following the regular season.
“When I look back at disqualification at Charlotte [May 2020] and then, missing the Brickyard 400 due to my COVID-19 positive test, and only miss it by six points,…not gonna dwell on it,” Johnson added. “We did all that we could this year. I am so thankful for Hendrick Motorsports and the career that I’ve had there, the relationship with Ally and their continued support with this race team, [crew chief] Cliff Daniels and these guys on my team that pour their guys out for me.”
Though Johnson’s attempt to compete for an eighth title is diminished, his season throughout the Playoffs is not over as he has a final opportunity (10-race stretch) to win for the first time since June 2017 and grab his first victory with crew chief Cliff Daniels before retiring from full-time NASCAR competition.
“There’s 10 races left, 10 trophies to go chase and we’ll have to focus our efforts there.”
Johnson’s final 10-race stretch in the NASCAR Cup Series will commence on September 6 at Darlington Raceway for the Cook Out Southern 500, which will occur at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.