CONCORD, N.C. — It’s more than a hashtag. It’s a mindset.
And Jimmie Johnson has altered both.
Just weeks before the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season kicks off at Daytona International Speedway, the seven-time champion scratched his original #Chasing8 tagline and replaced it with #OneFinalTime on social media. Johnson, who announced he will retire from full-time racing at the conclusion of this year’s schedule, realized he doesn’t want to put the weight of securing a record eighth championship on himself or his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. Because that’s not what this season – his final season – is about.
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“My ultimate goal this year, and I think what happened through the self-awareness of the offseason, is just about being present,” Johnson said Thursday at the Hendrick Motorsports complex. “I’m going to get in that car, and I’m going to give it 100 percent as I always do. Who knows what the outcome is going to be? We’re going to lay it all on the line and go. I’m not chasing it. I’m going to try to be present and just be me.”
He’s “Seven-Time,” the only driver tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships. He’s a competitor with 83 wins in the sport’s premier league. He’s the veteran after 18 years and change of top-rank experience.
All of those numbers can still be bettered, regardless of the words posted on social media.
“It’s more of the mindset that goes with that hashtag,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, it doesn’t change things much. … I’m out there to win an eighth championship. This is about winning races, making the playoffs and trying to be in the final four.”
None of which happened in 2019.
Johnson failed to make the NASCAR Playoffs for the first time in his career. It was his second straight winless year after 16 consecutive seasons with at least two victories. Ranking 18th in the final standings then marked his worst points finish since he began full-time competition in 2002.
The pressure got to Johnson, which is exactly what he wants to avoid in 2020. Stay in the moment and out of his head.
Crew chief Cliff Daniels, who took over the No. 48 pit box midway through last season, can already see the mental switch, and the hashtag was just changed Wednesday. The explanation makes sense. Johnson is going back to, well, being Johnson.
“Since he’s been a kid, he can show up and drive anything – literally from a dirt bike to a mountain bike to any type of race car – just from the seat of his pants and be phenomenal,” Daniels said. “He’s never really worried about chasing a statistic or a competitor or anything like that. So, I think that was a pretty powerful moment for him to get back in his old mindset where maybe more recently he was chasing a statistic or a competitor or something.”
That can happen when retirement rumors prematurely swirl and results aren’t showing up on the track.
Can’t change the past, though. What matters now: #OneFinalTime is coming at the right time.
“In my own head, I’m not done yet,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to get to a point where I’m pissed off going to the track and I don’t want to be there. I want to give 100 percent, and I know I can do that in 2020.”