Chance at eighth championship in final season escapes Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson’s #Chasing8 was scratched long ago — before the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule even started actually — but the possibility of an eighth championship for “Seven-Time” truly came to an end Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

With two laps to go in regulation of the regular-season finale, Johnson got caught up in an 11-car wreck. His Hendrick Motorsports crew was able to nurse the damaged No. 48 Chevrolet back to life for a 17th-place result. But Johnson’s chances of making the NASCAR Playoffs in his final full-time season came to an end when teammate William Byron took the checkered flag and Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th. Those two claimed the final two spots in the 16-driver field, with Johnson as the first driver out.

“After a couple of beers and a flight home,” Johnson said, “I’m going to get a good night’s rest and try to shake it off tomorrow and just focus on the next race.”

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This marks the second season in a row Johnson has not made the postseason battle. Otherwise, he qualified every single year – the format was installed in 2004.

Byron’s No. 24 crew chief, Chad Knaus, called out commands in Johnson’s ear during his 15-year playoff run, which included the seven titles. Knaus stayed within the organization but switched teams prior to the 2019 season.

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 marked Byron’s first career victory and Knaus’ first triumph with a driver other than Johnson. So, after the checkered flag fell, Johnson went out of his way to drive past his teammate and former crew chief’s pit box — a sign of respect in a moment that could have easily been full of defeat.

“I hate it for Jimmie,” Knaus said. “He’s one of my best friends. He was the first guy that came by pit road and looked up at me, revved up the engine, gave me a thumbs up. He means the world to me. He’s a great man and brother of mine.”

Johnson ended up just six points below the cutline, even after the crash chaos. He and Byron entered the event with a four-point difference — Bryon with the advantage. DiBenedetto was nine points to the good, so not out of reach. Clint Bowyer, meanwhile, had a 57-point buffer and punched his ticket at the end of Stage 1.

“I knew the position we were in,” Johnson said. “So it’s not like this is a shock or a surprise. My emotions are what I would have expected. Definitely disappointed. We’ve been running well and running good.”

It’s not the end, though. There are still 10 races left before Johnson hangs up his gear. That means there are still 10 opportunities for Johnson to snap his current 120-winless streak.

Johnson may no longer be #Chasing8. But 2020 is still his #OneFinalTime.

“Guys were really bummed out there on pit lane as I was getting out of the car — my team members were,” Johnson said. “But we all know there’s still 10 more races to try to win. That’s what everybody’s focus is: to try to send me out with a trophy.”