Never say never.
Jimmie Johnson is beating that drum for anyone who will listen this year as he begins his final full season in the NASCAR Cup Series. After 19 years of driving the same race car in the same series with the same team, Johnson is looking forward to the opportunity of competing elsewhere. Because, while this is his final full year in Cup, it’s not his final time in a race car.
Which means Johnson won’t say the 62nd Daytona 500 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX) will be his final Daytona appearance, either.
“I would certainly entertain the right opportunity to come down and race again in a Cup car,” said Johnson. “Maybe there’s a way to figure something out with Rick (Hendrick) and run a limited schedule, a part-time schedule, and pick some of my favorite tracks. I’m honestly open.
“I don’t know where 2021 and beyond will take me. But if I can find a 10- to 15-race schedule, pick some of my favorite tracks, try some new cars, new countries to race in, that’d be the perfect recipe.”
Oh, Daytona. Johnson has found an equal amount of success and frustration at the Florida superspeedway.
Victories have come in the Clash (’05, ’19), and in the Duel races (’10, ’15). In 18 Daytona 500 starts, Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have seven top-five finishes. Don’t forget, as a rookie Johnson burst onto the scene by snagging the pole in 2002.
A sweep at the track in 2013 made him the first driver to accomplish the feat since 1982. But he has also crashed out of two of the last three Daytona 500s and between both the 500 and the summer race, Johnson has 10 DNFs with an overall average finish of 17.9.
Yet, the most important number is two: Johnson is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, and that is what carries weight.
“It’s the only race that has a title,” said Johnson. “I won here in ’06 before we won the championship that year, and it was mind-blowing to me how everywhere I went I was announced as the Daytona 500 champion, and the relevancy that had with the fans. I’d won plenty of races before that, but not this one; and this is the only track that gives you a title when you win it.”
Marquee events are special to Johnson. Of course, he’s won every marquee event that NASCAR has and multiple times: Daytona (two), Charlotte (four), Indianapolis (four), Darlington (two).
Potentially winning another one, such as the Daytona 500? That’s another thing Johnson would never say never to.
“In my final year, a marquee event (win) would blow my mind,” Johnson said. “It’d be special. (To) end a drought with a marquee win, there’d be a lot of storylines. So, gosh, I hope it’s true.”