By Sarah Handy, Staff Writer
Chasing 8 is no more. For seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson it’s ‘One Final Time’ as he embarks on his final season of full-time competition at NASCAR’s elite level.
“Through reflecting back since I made the announcement it just kind of dawned on me. The more I thought about it, I never chased anything,” Johnson said. “One final time just felt like the correct thing to say and now we’ve quickly struck the chasing eight from everything and one final time just fits well.”
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) January 29, 2020
Johnson has spent his entire Cup Series career with Hendrick Motorsports dating back to 2001 when he made three starts for the organization. 2002 marked his first full-time season in the series and he’s never looked back since, breaking record after record.
Heading into Daytona Speedweeks and the prestigious Daytona 500, Johnson has amassed an incredibly impressive 83 wins, 227 top-five and 364 top-10 finishes. The El Cajon, California native is also tied with Hall of Famer’s Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven championships.
Eight would put Johnson in a league of his own and while he may not be chasing it, don’t let that be taken as he’s not out there to win races and ultimately that eighth trophy, because he is.
“I’m out there to win an eighth championship, this is about winning races, making the playoffs and trying to be in that final four,” stated Johnson.
2019 proved to be a frustrating season for Johnson who didn’t make the playoffs and hasn’t won a points paying race since Dover in the Spring of 2017, but he knows the team under the leadership of Crew Chief Cliff Daniels is headed in the right direction.
“It was definitely frustrating (not making the playoffs), I was angry, embarrassed all of those things,” Johnson said. “One thing that helped me with all of it is it didn’t happen at once. To look at Indy and not make it, I knew in my heart of hearts it was months prior to that where the real opportunity lied and where we missed it. When I look at 19, as tough as it was, it was really a huge year of growth for me.”
“19 taught me a lot about the areas Chad was strong in and really brought to the team. To have Cliff leading the team it’s relaxed me and I know we’re on the right path.”
2020 provides Johnson will the opportunity to go out on his own terms. With that said, he said the thought of 2020 as his last full-time season happened throughout the course of last year, especially when he knew contact extension talks would be around the corner with Hendrick Motorsports team owner, Rick Hendrick.
“I was thinking about it pretty hard through the course of the year knowing I was going to have to talk to Rick about a contract extension. I started feeling less likely to come back when I started working with Cliff,” Johnson said. “When I sat Cliff down to talk to him, I wasn’t sure how he was going to react to that. The peace he brought me and the leadership he has for our race team and where I know our team is going really helped me identify with 2020 as probably my best chance to win a championship. I want to give 100% and I know I can do that in 2020.”
Johnson’s ultimate goal for the 2020 season is all about remaining present and laying it all out on the line but he’s not chasing it.
“My ultimate goal this year and what happened through this self-awareness of the off season is just about being present,” stated Johnson. “I’m going to get in that car and give it 100% as I always do. Who knows what the outcome is going to be. I’m going to lay it on the line and go and I’m not chasing it. I’m going to try to be present and just be me.”
With that said, he remains focused on what a good final full-time Cup season would be for him and his No. 48 Ally Financial Chevrolet team.
“Winning races, making the playoffs would be a great season, ultimate season is being in that final championship four,” Johnson said. “I hope to look back after 2020 and say you know 2019 set me up to have the year I wanted to have as my final one.”