The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will mark Jimmie Johnson’s final full-time campaign in the sport’s top series. The sure-fire future NASCAR Hall of Famer announced the decision days after the end of the 2019 season – a season that saw him fail to reach the playoffs for the first time in his career.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has accomplished plenty: seven championships that put him in the same elite company as legends and Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, 83 wins on his resume and the standard of greatness for an entire generation and perhaps, the entire sport.
But what will 2020 hold for Johnson? Will he be able to chase eight one final time? NASCAR.com’s Alex Weaver and RJ Kraft debate how the seven-time champion’s swan-song season will go.
KRAFT: As nice as a storybook Peyton Manning-John Elway like, walk-off title exit would be, I just don’t find it realistic based on how the 48 camp has looked for the better part of three years. Johnson enters the 2020 season on a 95-race winless streak – 95?!? – a career-high for the seven-time champion. He has just nine top-five finishes in the past 108 races. To put that in greater context, between 2003 and 2016, the lowest number of top fives he had in a season was 11.
While the recent numbers are far from flattering, hope is far from lost and I’m not throwing dirt on his grave. Hendrick seemed to turn a corner as a whole in the summer, and there was speed there under Cliff Daniels, who took over the No. 48 team midseason. Johnson also seems motivated to not go out with a whimper with final season success very much an energizing factor.
I don’t see this as a title season for Johnson, but he is absolutely one of the 16 best drivers for the upcoming season. When I gaze into my crystal ball, I see a return to the playoffs, at least six top fives and 250 laps led and a return to Victory Lane – likely at Dover International Speedway (in the spring) for a record 12th time.
WEAVER: Well, everyone talks about loving a storybook ending but they never actually believe it will happen. I’m not one of those people. Jimmie Johnson, in my book, is the greatest this sport has ever seen. Seven championships in the top national series is a feat I don’t believe anybody will ever accomplish again.
Yes, the 48 team struggled last year, but I also know Johnson is a competitor to the highest magnitude – he ran the Boston Marathon for crying out loud! The struggle of 2019 set him up to complete a comeback for the ages. You mean to tell me we’re counting out a guy who has 83 wins and seven championships because of one season where his team couldn’t put a race together? Not in my storybook. Did we believe Tiger Woods would win again? Yes, and that 2019 Masters green jacket fits like a glove. Did we count Peyton Manning out? Tell your answer to his Super Bowl 50 trophy.
Hendrick knows this is the final year with the California native. The early announcement not only allowed fans to get a full season of appreciating Johnson and his accomplishments but for Hendrick to be in position to put all resources and effort into making it a successful outing for the driver who has filled the organization’s trophy room.
I think the season will start slow but turn to see Johnson win his first race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. He’ll then go on to win two or more races in the playoffs and ultimately secure the 2020 championship. Pin this article, so when he’s holding that eighth championship, I can say: Final chapter, complete.