Jimmie Johnson the race car driver saw a win in front of him at Charlotte Motor Speedway as he stalked Martin Truex Jr.’s back bumper coming into the final chicane on the frontstretch.
In the split second that Johnson decided he wanted that elusive win, Johnson the playoff driver was no more as the seven-time champion tossed away his shot to race for an eighth title. Johnson got to Truex’s rear bumper, locked up the brakes, spun to the right and then hit Truex with the rear of his Chevrolet to send the reigning Cup Series champion spinning as well.
Nether driver won the race as Ryan Blaney snuck by. But Truex is already locked into the Round of 12, and by Johnson finishing eighth he lost out on a three-way tie-breaker with Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola (best finish in the round) for the final transfer spot.
“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car,” said Johnson. “Just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.”
Asked whether he would have made the move again Johnson said, “If I knew the outcome was going to be that, no. I want to stay alive in the championship points, but I really felt like I could pull that pass off.”
From TV to radio and then a media scrum, it was clear Johnson was still processing the sudden turn of events, and he admitted to being shell-shocked.
After taking the checkered flag — and a bump from Truex on the cool-down lap that sent him spinning — Johnson asked if the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had transferred.
“According to this right now, we transferred by one,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “According to this. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
After a pause Knaus came back on the radio and said, “No. Ah. No. I don’t think so. Maybe. S–t. We’re tied. Three-way tie.”
And then, “I don’t think we transferred, bud.”
“Wish I could go back in time and let off the brakes a little bit back there and not take that opportunity because the championship is what we’re here for,” Johnson said. “And to fight all year and be that close to transferring, that’s why it’s sinking in as I’ve had [a few minutes] out of the car to let it soak in.”
Johnson repeatedly owned up to making a mistake and felt bad not only for taking out himself and ending his title hopes, but taking away Truex’s shot at the win, too. Johnson repeatedly stressed that the front and backstretch chicanes had been his strongest points of attack throughout day and he was adamant that he felt he could make the move on Truex.
“I had passed the whole field time after time after time, so I was hopeful I could get it done and thought I could do it,” said Johnson. “I didn’t enter the corner thinking I was going to take Martin out, I really felt like I could get in there and race with him for it, and unfortunately, made a mistake and cost us both.”
‘Just go racing’ is what Johnson said the team would do to move on.
“It’s a bummer,” he said. “It’s not what we want by any stretch but we have great tracks coming ahead and as everybody has seen we’ve got these cars a lot faster and a lot stronger and we just need to start capitalizing on that.”