Jimmie Johnson has thought about the last lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway a lot this week. But what he says he would change about it has more to do with eliminating the mistake that cost him a shot at the win and a spot in the playoffs than choosing to play it safe.
“I’ve still got to make that move,” Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. “I’ve still got to try for it. I would have made a small brake bias adjustment, and I think I would have modulated the brakes a little bit different into the corner. Looking back, I was a little lower than I typically was entering that braking zone and had a bit more steering wheel input into the car, and that’s why the left front initially locked up.
“So, I would change a couple things, but I still don’t know how I don’t go for it. Again, it wasn’t the desperate move to try to pass [Martin Truex Jr.] in that braking zone. My intent was to be alongside of him, one side or the other, because I felt like it would have tripped him up enough to where I had a real shot on the exit of the corner to the start/finish line.”
Johnson finished eighth last weekend and lost a three-way tiebreaker to advance into the Round of 12. Truex finished 14th after leading the race going into the frontstretch chicane. Truex, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, was already locked into the second round and his frustration over not picking up another win led him to spin Johnson during the cool-down lap.
Going into the final lap, Johnson knew he was sitting in a good spot to advance and felt had he made a mistake recovery was possible. But the positions Johnson lost, in addition to Kyle Larson picking up a spot by passing the stalled car of Jeffrey Earnhardt just feet from the finish line, all played against him.
“Just a wild series of events at the end of that thing,” said Johnson. “My move, I planned on it being in control and calculated and us both finishing. It wasn’t ‘Drive in there, clean him out, hopefully I win.’ That was not the move at all. Unfortunately, I just missed it on my part a little bit and got the brakes locked up and around I went.”
Johnson said he received support from all around the Hendrick Motorsports campus about his decision to go for the win, but he still feels terrible for his No. 48 group not to advance after all the work that went in. He admitted spoiling the race — and possibly the championship — for Truex and weighed on him.
“I don’t know if it would for all drivers, but I feel bad for Martin and that No. 78 team. I hate that my mistake affected them and could impact their season to some degree. So, I don’t like that aspect to it, but it is racing and I know in my heart that it was a legitimate attempt at winning the race and a mistake was made,” said Johnson.
“I’ve moved on. Had a good week. There are a couple things that still linger, but those all seem to go away when you get in the car for next practice.”