Jimmie Johnson wasn’t taken by surprise when he didn’t make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. After all, the reality of such a scenario had been brewing for a couple of months.
When Johnson was indeed locked out of the postseason for the first time after Indianapolis, he closed that book and moved on. Or so he thought. Instead, the seven-time champion has found this week that it still hurts and the wound is still there.
“Clearly making the decision to put Cliff (Daniels) in I had to contemplate the implications it might have on making the playoffs or not, so it was definitely on the front of my mind as we were getting much closer to Indy,” Johnson said before qualifying in Las Vegas. “So that helped largely with it, but I didn’t expect the pain to be as real as it is now checking in on social media or seeing the ads on television. Bummed I’m not a part of it. It hurts.”
Johnson said he congratulated his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott, on their championship opportunities during the team’s Tuesday debriefs. He told them to take advantage of because “I’d do anything to be in your position to have a shot at an eighth championship right now.”
Salt in Johnson’s wound has not only been his exclusion from participating in the annual media day and all its activities, but seeing all the buzz on his social media channels. Thursday afternoon included interview obligations, photo and video production, and the highly popular Burnout Blvd on the Las Vegas Strip.
“Seeing everybody partying over there on the Strip and doing burnouts and everything, all the guys that made the playoffs, that hurt,” repeated Johnson. “There’s no way around it. I want to be a part of all that, and I should be, so as I kind of analyze that I’m glad it hurts. If it didn’t hurt, I think there’d be a problem.
“[I] Know it was more than just what happened at Indy. There’s a season full of mistakes that kind of put us in that position or 26 races that we could have made a difference in.”
Luckily for Johnson, he had a way to distract himself as much as possible. A pre-planned mountain bike trip in Arkansas would have taken place Tuesday and Wednesday had Johnson made the playoffs, but ended up working out as an excellent time to get away from racing world.
“For me, and I know the keyboard warriors want to think differently, I have to create time to stop thinking racing and what I can do inside the car,” Johnson said. “I’m in it all the time. I’m thinking about it all the time, so I’ve just learned about myself that I do need a breath of fresh air occasionally and I do need to plan some trips and do need to see my buddies and have some guy time, I do need to do date nights with my wife or family time.
“I have to plan those things out otherwise I’ll just stay in the zone the whole time and find out mid to late season I’m burned out. So, it comes with experience, just learning how to plan the year and plan things out and that trip was on the books for a while.”
Johnson continues to remain optimistic that things with his team are moving in a “great” direction as well as his belief that HMS as a company is getting better. Saturday, he again sang the praises of Daniels and what he has brought to the team, including how his leadership has played a positive role.
“We have 10 (races) left, and again, the optimism and excitement within the team is really inspiring, and I’m excited and ready to go,” said Johnson.
Johnson will start ninth in the South Point 400.