DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Long after a fireworks extravaganza lit up Daytona International Speedway and well after William Byron and his Hendrick Motorsports team ended their celebration in victory lane, Jimmie Johnson found a moment to reflect.
On his night. On his emotions. On his legacy. He pretty much covered them all.
Johnson posted a picture on Instagram of his battered No. 48 Chevrolet, which was caught up in a late-race wreck and knocked out of playoff contention in the regular-season finale Saturday. The crash meant his racing career would end without a record-setting eighth Cup Series championship.
“7 it is,” he wrote. “I’m damn proud of that in case you were wondering.”
Johnson was running near the front of the pack most of the night and was in position to make the playoffs until Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano made contact and started a multi-car melee that collected Johnson and nine others with less than two laps to go. Logano slammed into Bubba Wallace, who slid sideways and nearly wrecked Byron.
Logano tried to straighten his car, but Matt DiBenedetto rammed into his rear bumper and caused him to lose control for good. Johnson looked like he might escape the carnage, but Logano spun into Matt Kenseth, who made a hard right into Johnson’s driver-side door.
Johnson sat on pit road in his mangled mess during a red flag and surely realized that the “storybook ending” he talked about a day earlier was gone.
“The last couple of months, we’ve been really getting our act together and running well,” Johnson said after finishing 17th and missing the final postseason berth by six points. “Definitely disappointed to not be in the playoffs. That was the No. 1 goal to start the year.”