It’s not a common thing to see a non playoff driver win a playoff race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but this weekend could very well show us that Jimmie Johnson still has it.
For the second straight year, Johnson heads to the Dover International Speedway not in the playoffs. Last year, he was eliminated in the opening round after making a costly mistake on the final lap in the final turn. This year, he’s not even in the playoffs. He missed them completely for the first time of his Cup career.
In fact, the last couple of years have been taxing for Johnson. He hasn’t won since the 2017 season. He’s scored five combined top five finishes over the last two seasons. He’s only led 40 laps last year and 88 this year.
All of his statistical metrics were getting worse and worse.
That’s why they made a change on top of his pit box for 2019. Gone was Chad Knaus and in Kevin Meendering. But, after only 21 races, out was Meendering already and in was Cliff Daniels.
That has been the turning point. It took a few races for Daniels to get his fingerprints on the No. 48 Chevrolet but since he has, Johnson has taken off again.
The seven-time champion finished 11th, 10th and ninth respectively in the first round. That would have put him in a good position to still be alive in the playoffs right now. Then, it’s to arguably his best track – Dover.
Johnson, has won 11 times on the Monster Mile including the very spot of his last victory in June 2017. Furthermore, he has eight top 10 finishes in his last 12 starts on the concrete Delaware oval.
He’s won four times there since 2013.
What happens if he wins Sunday? The speed has been there recently as he’s a top 10 qualifying machine since Daniels took over. If he was playoff eligible, he’d move onto the Round of 8. It would be like an old Johnson season.
That’s why the end of this season could mean Johnson could be back as a contender in 2020.