DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Last November, Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season would be his last full time effort in the No. 48 Chevrolet. Unfortunately, it’s probably time that he does hang up his helmet after 18 great years of competing at NASCAR’s highest level.
Johnson’s seven championships are tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most all-time. His 83 wins rank him in a tie with Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time. His next victory would tie him for fourth with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. Two more wins would have him only see Richard Petty (200), David Pearson (105) and Jeff Gordon (93) as the only drivers ahead of him on the all-time wins list in NASCAR Cup Series history.
That’s why 2020 being Johnson’s last ride would like to see him win at least two races and a record breaking eighth title. That’s a storybook ending right?
Well, wins have been few and far between for Johnson lately. Since his last championship in 2016, he’s only won three times over the last three combined seasons. All three of those wins though came in 2017 as he’s been shut out of the win category in each of the last two years. He heads to Daytona riding a 95 race winless streak, worst of his career.
He’s only had a combined nine top five finishes in those three years and 33 combined top 10’s. By comparison, from his rookie season in 2002 through the 2015 season, Johnson had at least 20 top 10’s in literally every single season.
He only led 217 laps in 2017, 40 in 2018 and just 131 last year. From 2007 through 2014, seven-time led at least 1,100 laps in eight consecutive years.
Now, he heads to Daytona trying to reverse that downward trend for one last time. After all those great years, followed by three lean years, what better way to start 2020, his last season in Cup, off with a Daytona 500 triumph.
Team owner Rick Hendrick says that the pressure is on to have Johnson end on a high note. But, Hendrick says Johnson’s approach to his final year at the helm is in the right place.
“He’s given so much to the sport and our organization, in particular with seven championships and all the wins,” Hendrick said on Saturday from the Daytona International Speedway. “We want to give him everything we can to see him go out with the best results he can.
“He’s really fired up. Jimmie is super excited. Cliff is really a super sharp guy. I think they’re going to have a really good year with the new car. I’m excited about the car.
“I’ve never seen Jimmie so energized. Sometimes a guy in his last year, they’re celebrating, it’s the end. I don’t want to say they coast, but it’s not a priority to run fast and win. Jimmie is really fired up.
“We’re going to give him everything we got, leave nothing on the table.”
This will all likely be his 19th and final start in the Great American Race. He’s won it twice (2006, 2013). Both happened to be championship winning years for the California native. Also, both happened to be in seven year intervals. 2006…2013…2020?
While he’s struggled overall lately, he’s quietly been pretty stout in the ‘500 lately. Johnson, finished ninth in last year’s race for his fourth top 10 finish in his last seven Daytona 500 starts. Three of those four saw him finish in the top five at that.
In last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, Johnson finished third. If you go back to the fall race at Talladega in 2018, Johnson has six top 10 finishes in his last nine superspeedway starts including a win in last year’s Clash and a runner-up in Thursday night’s Duel.
This is a big storyline to watch this weekend.