Darlington DNF deals blow to Johnson playoff hopes

Image by Kinrade/LAT

Darlington DNF deals blow to Johnson playoff hopes


Darlington DNF deals blow to Johnson playoff hopes


Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson will go into the regular season finale in Indianapolis with the possibility hanging over him that he could miss the playoffs.

Johnson has been in the NASCAR postseason every year since its inception in 2004.

“Yeah, I mean it sucks,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to be in this position. We’ve been around this spot for a while, we’ve seen it coming. We just need to transfer, and honestly, I think our cars are capable of running in the top five. If we can just start minimizing mistakes, my own included, we will be much better off and have a shot.”

A 39th-place finish at Darlington Raceway because of an oil pump issue forces the No. 48 team into unfamiliar territory. Plus, Johnson has not won this season, which would have given him the security of being locked in that way.

The good news is that the odds are in Johnson’s favor going into the regular season finale.

Johnson remains 15th on the playoff grid ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman by 19 points. His advantage on the cutline, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is 87 points, meaning Stenhouse cannot mathematically overtake him.

However, if a driver outside the top 16 in points were to win at Indianapolis and Bowman leapfrogged him in the standings, Johnson would not make the postseason.

Johnson is a four-time winner at Indianapolis.

“There is no need to flip out now,” said Johnson. “We have had a pretty rough year to this point. We’ve been working hard, unfortunately just haven’t had the results. We’ll keep working hard; there is no quit in myself of this team.”

Darlington was Johnson’s fourth DNF in what has been an atypical season for him and the No. 48 team. Johnson has a surprising eight top-10 finishes, two top-fives with an average finish of 17.1. Through 25 races he has led only 29 laps.

“It’s just about cleaning things up,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a great lap in that second round of qualifying [Saturday] that put us back. Unfortunately, we had a loose wheel, and then I missed the commitment line coming in. We’ve just got to clean those things up.