Times have truly changed at Hendrick Motorsports. For the first time since the introduction of the NASCAR “playoff” system, Jimmie Johnson is on the cusp of missing out on a shot for the NASCAR Championship. Johnson most recently won the Driver’s Championship in 2016, but over the course of the last 72 races the seven-time champion has only won on three occasions. One race remains in NASCAR’s regular season and Johnson sits 18 points outside the cutoff line. In all likelihood a win is the only way Jimmie Johnson will keep his fifteen year playoff streak going.
Jimmie Johnson will go down in history as one of the most successful drivers in the sport. Currently tied with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most NASCAR Championships, Johnson’s reputation would not suffer for missing the playoffs. After all, he sits alone as the only driver to have won five back-to-back titles in the sport’s storied history. For some reason, however, it is always difficult to come to grips with the fact that even the best drivers slow down or experience a dip in form over time.
By all indications, Jimmie Johnson has had a better season than 2018, which saw him lead only 40 laps with an average starting place of 19.2. Unfortunately for Johnson, his teammates are all locked into the NASCAR Playoffs magnifying his potential absence. Johnson has not been markedly worse than any of his teammates this season, but over the last seven races Johnson has failed to build any semblance of momentum.
Since Daytona back in July, Johnson has an average finishing position of 23.3, which is well below his season average of 16.2. He struggled at tracks due to both mechanical incidents and poor pace where he could normally rely on consistent performances such as Bristol, Pocono, and New Hampshire. For various reasons he has not been able to get the best out of his Hendrick car. The crew of NASCAR America on NBCSN discussed Johnson’s poor outing following a lost belt at New Hampshire,
Richard Petty stated after Johnson’s post race interview, “That whole interview you kept waiting for him to grab something and show you a little bit of hope, but there was no hope in that interview…To me that was it.”
The dejection from Jimmie Johnson after New Hampshire looked to have finally made a positive turn during Sunday night’s rain delayed race at Darlington. He was running well for most of the night and there was reason for optimism, but luck just did not go his way. Johnson was running fourth late in the race only to have been caught up in a wreck not of his making. Johnson sounded resigned to the current situation after the race, but took the time to reflect on how much luck he has had over the years,
“I had at least fifteen years with a lot of luck on my side. Seven years of championships and having two or three bad ones is just part of it.”
“I keep saying that we’re getting there, and tonight we showed it, from the way we qualified to how we ran on those stages.
Johnson will need to win at Indianapolis this weekend to make the playoffs. He has won four times over the course of 17 races. If the #48 can deliver the same level of performance from Darlington, a determined champion can never be counted out when the pressure is at its greatest.