DARLINGTON, S.C. — Jimmie Johnson felt good about what ultimately was a bad night in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The results showed that Johnson finished 16th — the seventh consecutive race he has failed to finish better than 15th. As a result, he remains outside a playoff spot heading into the Sept. 8 regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Johnson, a seven-time series champion, has never missed the postseason since its debut in 2004.
Johnson had a fast car all weekend — “They knew we were here,” he told his team on the radio — but it was undone when he was collected in a crash with about 90 laps left in the rain-delayed race that started after 10 p.m. ET Sunday and ended just before 2 a.m. Monday.
“I had at least 15 years with a lot of luck on my side, seven years of championships and having two or three bad ones is just part of it,” Johnson said. “I keep saying that we’re getting there, and tonight we showed it, from the way we qualified to how we ran on those stages. I was running fourth when that accident took place in Turn 3, and I just had nowhere to go.”
Johnson continued and later found himself in a situation that moved him into the lead briefly.
When others began pitting early in what was the final pit cycle with about 45 laps left, crew chief Cliff Daniels kept Johnson out, hoping a caution would put them back into contention. Johnson led laps 324-326 in the 367-lap race before he was the last driver to pit under green.
“Had we done it all over again, we would have done the exact same thing again,” Daniels told NBC Sports of the pit call. “It is Darlington, and so many times you see guys spin out getting to pit road, guys blowing a tire late in a run, things like that. Caution comes out at that point, you’re almost a hero.
“There may have been only one or two cars that would have stayed out, otherwise, it is Darlington so everyone would have come to take four, and now you have track position again with a beat-up car. It’s not like we ran an extra 10 laps based on what those guys did and just tanked. We ran five extra laps. It just didn’t work out. That’s the strategy we had talked about leading up to that point, so it was kind of a calculated move. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not work, and we may have lost one or two points because of it but on the flip side that it worked out, you stand to gain a lot.”