Jimmie Johnson’s ‘mistake’ ends his chances for record eighth title

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CONCORD, N.C. — History will have to wait.

Because Jimmie Johnson couldn’t.

Running second — and in position to transfer to the second round of the playoffs — Johnson tried to pass Martin Truex Jr. in the final chicane. Johnson spun and saw his hopes for a record eighth Cup title end.

He lost six positions and finished eighth, dropping into a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots to the second round. The tiebreaker is the best finish in this round. Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola, who were tied with Johnson, each had better finishes in this round than Johnson.

So why did Johnson  — even though he was on a career-long 51-race winless streak — jeopardize his title hopes with a last-lap move?

“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win, and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive,” Johnson said on pit road after the race. “We had such a good car. It’s just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.

“I knew where I was on the math. I didn’t think that I was going to crash or spin trying to overtake him like I did. I thought I was making a calculated move and giving myself a chance to win.”

Johnson saw his opportunity when Truex drifted off the bottom groove in Turns 3 and 4 on the oval coming to the final chicane.

Johnson said his strongest spot on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile track had been both chicanes.

Johnson cut underneath Turex entering the chicane but locked his brakes and spun. Johnson clipped Truex and turned him.

“He wasn’t ever going to make it through that corner whether I was there or not,” Truex said. “Just desperation on his part and pretty stupid really if you think about it because he was locked into the next round and now he’s out. I guess if there’s a silver lining, that’s it.”

Johnson’s bid to advance ended when he stopped on course to serve a penalty for missing the chicane. NASCAR stated that any driver who failed to go through a chicane properly had to come to a complete stop in a designated area before continuing. Johnson complied and lost those six spots serving the penalty.

“I thought we had a big enough cushion on points and all and not enough cars went by,” Johnson said. “I thought I was going to be OK.”

While one corner will be viewed as costing Johnson the chance to advance in the playoffs, he knows it also was what happened at Las Vegas and Richmond that hurt his chances.

“Certainly look at Las Vegas … and know we left a lot of on the table there,” said Johnson, who hit the wall late in that race after cutting a tire and finished 22nd instead of a top-five position he seemed headed to score.

“Today, we were in the good, and I thought I was making a good clean racing move to get myself a chance to win. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and lost it. Feel terrible it took me out, took Martin out and took us out of the championship.”