An angel rides with Jimmie Johnson at Darlington

Photo: Dustin Long
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DARLINGTON, S.C. — Jimmie Johnson’s playoff bid may be aided by an angel.

While his No. 48 Chevrolet features a throwback paint scheme to the Chevy Thunder Trophy Truck he raced in 1995, he will wear a firesuit similar to what he wore that year.

That 1995 firesuit featured an angel on it. And so does the firesuit he is wearing this weekend at Darlington Raceway. The angel is located along the right collarbone on his uniform.

“My grandmother would give us, myself and my brothers, these little guardian angel pins to wear,” Johnson said Friday. “And as you can see where they’re located when you have a seatbelt on and (are) bouncing around in an off-road buggy or a truck, those pins would be kind of painful and dig into you and cut you open.

“So, after my grandmother noticed that I didn’t have the pin on in a race, and asked why, I told her it was digging into me and cutting me open. So she hand stitched an angel on a little patch and gave it to me and said, ‘Well now, you’ll always have that guardian angel with you.’

“So, for the longest time, especially when I was really in charge of my own suits, it was on all of my suits. Kudos to everybody involved in putting together this throwback, somebody noticed it and then decided to bring that story back to life. Unfortunately my grandmother has passed on, but I know my mom’s side of the family and my aunts and uncles are really excited to hear the story.”

Johnson heads into Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 26 points out of the final playoff spot with two races left in the regular season. He has never missed the playoffs since NASCAR created the postseason format in 2004. No other driver has as long an active playoff streak.

Despite the challenge he faces the next two weeks, Johnson remains optimistic he will make the playoffs. Friday, Johnson was fifth quick in opening Cup practice.

“The last three or four weeks we’ve been really fast,” he said. “It’s just getting through a race. We need to have a lot of things go right to win. I think we’re closing the gap to the frontrunners. We’re definitely doing it. I feel like we’ve had many top fives slip away here in the last six to eight weeks, which is unfortunate. So, we’ve just got to clean that up and a lot of it falls on me just making mistakes and trying too hard on the track. So, I need a good clean lap to remind myself every lap here to race the track and not race the competitors and we’ll see how it goes.”

Johnson has not finished better than 15th in the last six races. He’s placed 30th or worse three times during that stretch.

“Believe me, I want to keep my playoff streak alive, and I want to be a factor in the playoffs,” Johnson said. “I want to know what the outcome is, but it’s not that I want to hurry up and get through it and have it go away. I want to race. I want to get out there and earn another victory and earn my way into these playoffs. That’s what we’re all here for.

“So, my optimism again, comes from that I just know where this team is right now and I know where it’s going. Unfortunately, we don’t have any more time left, but we’re going to finish up the year strong and that brings me a lot of excitement regardless of how the playoffs unfold.”