Jimmie Johnson’s pursuit of a NASCAR record eighth championship will have to wait until next season after a crash during Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway knocked the seven-time champion out of the running and the Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs.
Johnson suffered a right-front tire failure that caused him to hit the outside Turn 2 wall, heavily damaging the No. 48 Chevrolet. The accident occurred on the last lap of Stage 2 (Lap 149 of 312 overall), relegating the defending Cup Series champion to a 39th-place finish.
“It’s disappointing,” Johnson said. “I anticipated this being a really scrappy race until the end. We had good speed. I know I wasn’t leading the race, but my lap times compared to the leaders was respectable. With some strategy or opportunities and we had clean air on the front, I think we had a shot at it. So, that is what we were really trying to position ourselves for.”
In addition to Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Denny Hamlin were the other drivers eliminated from the playoffs Sunday, the last of three races within the semifinal playoff round.
Goodyear confirmed overheated brakes caused the right-front tire on the No. 48 car to blow, though Johnson thought he was managing his brakes. Several tires experienced a similar issue Sunday.
“I didn’t know it was coming,” Johnson said. “Clearly just got the brakes too hot and popped that tire.”
Johnson entered Phoenix needing a win to advance to next week’s championship final. The postseason has uncharacteristically been a struggle for the seven-time titlist, who a year ago tied the all-time championship mark shared by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson failed to win a playoff race for the first time since NASCAR went to a playoff format in 2004. Phoenix extended his streak of not finishing in the top 10 to four races, with finishes of 27th, 12th, and 11th in the three preceding races.
“The last couple of months we’ve been staying alive and at this stage with the (quarterfinals) and then the (semifinals), you can’t just stay alive,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders and we just haven’t been there, unfortunately.
“We’ll try again next weekend and then do some good changes over the offseason and come back next year and be ready to go.”