After a “tough” night to cap off the first winless season of his career, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is looking forward to a “clean start” to his career in 2019.
That clean start is closer after Johnson placed 14th in Sunday’s Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which marked his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus and his last race with sponsor Lowe’s.
Driving a car with the paint scheme his No. 48 sported in his 2002 rookie season, Johnson was unable to recreate some of the magic he and Knaus displayed over the last 17 years.
Johnson started 19th and ran as high as third during green flag pit stops with 30 laps to go. He was 10th on the final restart with 15 laps to go before losing four spots.
“Sad ending to a sweet story,” Knaus told NBCSN.
Johnson and Knaus end their tenure together after 604 starts, 81 wins and 219 top fives.
“You know it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with,” Johnson said. “But (Knaus) is my brother, there is just no way around it. So, not an easy situation. It sure has not been easy, especially the second half of the year.”
Johnson wants to reflect on all he and Knaus accomplished “instead of reflecting on this year and how bad it was because I know that reality, I’ve been living it first-hand.”
Johnson is winless in his last 59 starts.
“In my Cup career that is probably the most difficult year that I have had,” Johnson said. “I can look back at some other years where I had different challenges of not having a sponsor or maybe not having a ride and dealing with adversity there. As far as having a fully funded high-qualify ride, that was… ’18 was by far the toughest. 2015 was pretty tough, but this was still tougher than that. Especially, to work through the decision to go separate ways with Chad that was probably… early in the year, kind of mid-season when we made that decision and working through that scenario wasn’t easy. Just glad to finish with a respectable result today, but we’ve got a lot of work to do as a company.”
When NASCAR returns to Daytona in February, Knaus will be paired with William Byron on the No. 24 next year while Johnson will have Kevin Meendering as his crew chief.
“We will work very close together and I think even on a deeper level than where we have been the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “The last couple of years have been tough. William is a great guy and I’ve been working closely with him and obviously, Chad is going to be working with William. We will all be in there working together without a doubt.”