How it went for Jimmie Johnson one final time as the No. 48 Chevrolet driver in NASCAR


“One Final Time” could have been translated to “First In Class” for Jimmie Johnson — the fitting title of the closing act for an all-time good guy in NASCAR.

In what might be the final start of his illustrious Cup Series career, the seven-time series champion finished fifth Sunday at Phoenix Raceway — directly behind the Championship 4 of teammate Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.

But his oldest daughter, Genevieve, helped explain on pit lane afterward why he still was victorious.

“She said, ‘Daddy, I think you won,” Johnson said. “I said, no, I finished fifth. She said, ‘No, the first four cars were in the championship and you beat everybody else.’ She brought it to my attention and had her own version of my winning, which I appreciated.

THE SHORT LIST: Jimmie Johnson finalizes his legacy

“Just a good competitive day.  I could see (Hamlin) up there and was slowly catching him but just kind of ran out of laps.  It was nice to keep my eyes forward and have a great car and race that hard all day long.”

Johnson spent a while savoring the aftermath of his fifth top five of the season in the 686 start of his Cup career.

He gently door-slammed Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet on the cooldown lap and then came around for another high-five through their driver-side windows. He shared a three-way group hug with Elliott and car owner Rick Hendrick (“that’s the first time I’ve seen Rick in person since March; there was a lot going on there in one moment for all three of us.”).

Chase Elliott, Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson embrace after Elliott’s victory and championship at Phoenix (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After completing his media center obligations, Johnson then rolled out a black ice chest that was filled with blue cans of Bud Light. In a throwback to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s celebration after his last Cup start three years ago, Johnson began tossing cans to crew chief Cliff Daniels and the rest of his No. 48 Chevy crew members.

He shared a poignant beer toast and some conversation with former crew chief Chad Knaus, whom Johnson had atop the pit box for 81 victories and seven championships from 2002-18.

When he rolled off the track into the pits, Johnson gave a high five to every crew member he saw as a makeshift receiving line formed along the wall.

The sign of respect was appreciated despite a lost season. Johnson ends his full-time career amid a 131-race winless streak. He tied a career worst by finishing 18th in the points standings for the second consecutive season, and he also missed the playoffs after being forced out of the Brickyard 400 because of a positive test for COVID-19 (which he now questions).

“I would say I thought I hit bottom a few times, and there was a bottom a little lower than what I envisioned,” Johnson said about 2020. “I felt like on track there was mistakes that I made, and we had issues, times where the team made mistakes, had bad luck on track, supposedly had COVID and missed the Brickyard 400. There were just many lows that kept rolling.  When I thought that was it, there was another low.

“I just had to figure out how to put a smile on my face, what was important to me and what 2020 was going to be like, regardless of the way things took place on the track. I really hit that stride.  It doesn’t mean I didn’t pout from time to time because performance on track really sets your mood for the week, but I found a way to smile and work through it and finish strong.”

Johnson’s goodbye was one of many Sunday.

Knaus, called his final race as a crew chief before moving into Hendrick Motorsports management, and Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth also made what likely are the final starts of their Cup career.

But the focus naturally was on Johnson and honoring his Hall of Fame legacy.

NASCAR Jimmie Johnson final
Jimmie Johnson is congratulated by Bubba Wallace before his last start in the No. 48 Chevrolet (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Though he would lead four laps during a green-flag pit cycle in Stage 2, Johnson already had been in first laps before the green flag. He took the point on the pace laps (just as he had during the season-opening Daytona 500) for a while, waving to the limited-capacity crowd of less than 10,000 at Phoenix.

It was one of many ways the prerace festivities revolved around the El Cajon, Calif., native, whose Twitter feed was filled with video vignettes and remembrances. At one point, Johnson was surrounded at one point on the grid by peers Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski — all wearing black “One Final Time” hats, a nod to the #OneFinalTime hashtag that Johnson has been using.

He also was honored individually on the driver introduction stage before the four championship contenders were recognized. Before climbing into his No. 48 Camaro for the last time, Johnson also shared a few moments with his wife, Chandra, and his daughters, Genevieve and Lydia.

After a season of limited crowds and infield access because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Johnson hadn’t had his family at the track since the March 1 race at Fontana, California, until NASCAR opened up access for guests at the season finale Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson takes a moment with his daughter Genevieve (left), Lydia and his wife, Chandra, before his last start in the No. 48 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

“That was everything,” Johnson said. “To have them a part of this is something I’ve really, really hoped could happen.  Very thankful I was able to have them here.”

He was able to have even more support in his own open-air hospitality section– replete with couches, cornhole, high-top tables and flat-screen TVs — just outside the Turn 1 catchfence. After the race, Johnson skipped a burnout in favor of a deliberate drive-by of “the big tent full of friends watching.

“I was able to put together an area here for my friends and family to come out and join,” Johnson told NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the prerace show. “Obviously this year is much different than we anticipated. We’re supposed to have a much larger invite list and bring friends in from far and wide. As things were condensed, we still have a nice footprint and certainly have some friends out here to enjoy the special day.”

After the interview, Johnson was surprised by a video tribute from car owner Rick Hendrick, who announced he would donate $50,000 to the driver’s foundation.

It was among many feel good moments for Johnson, who soaked in the moment with a sense of elation mixed with calm and peace. He had “a huge smile” walking onto the grid while reflecting on 19 seasons of hard work and the people who helped him excel.

“I’d say this time last year was the toughest (emotionally) for me because I knew in my head what my decision was, and it was time to sit down with Mr. Hendrick and really say it out loud for the first few times,” said Johnson, who officially announced 2020 as his final season during a Nov. 21, 2019 news conference at Hendrick Motorsports. “I reflect back a year ago, and it was much more difficult then. I’ve had a very interesting year as we all have in 2020. But I really have a full heart. I’m so thankful for the journey.”

Jimmie Johnson and his former crew chief Chad Knaus share a moment before the NASCAR Cup Series season finale Sunday at Phoenix (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Johnson won’t have to wait long to begin the next chapter. He will be testing Tuesday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in his No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, which will field Johnson in 13 of 17 road and street course races next season in the NTT IndyCar Series (Johnson tested last week at Barber Motorsports Park).

But he also told Earnhardt he wouldn’t rule out running a NASCAR Cup or Xfinity race in the future.

“I’m really open to it,” Johnson said. “I want to step away from full-time NASCAR racing to just have more time and really embrace life and live life and be more present. I know I still need to compete. That’s who I am and how I’m wired.

“If the right situation comes along, I’m open to it, and I certainly look forward to being back in the garage area.”

When he returns, it certainly will be to a different place now that Elliott, 24, has won the championship and seems poised to take the mantle left by Johnson.

“To share a moment like that in Jimmie’s last race and to win and to lock the championship, those are moments you can only dream of,” said Elliott, who had to forfeit a first-place starting spot and drop to the rear after three prerace inspection failures. “And this is a dream. I’m just hoping I don’t ever wake up.”

Chase Elliott is congratulated by Jimmie Johnson after his victory at Phoenix (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Johnson seemed equally happy to be sharing it, saying what he would remember most about his final start was “Chase Elliott won his first championship.  I’m so happy for that guy.  Great friend, great family. I’ve been friends with his mom and dad for a lot of years.  I can recall going snowboarding with Bill out in Colorado and Chase was maybe 8 years old, something like that, on skis, super quiet, wouldn’t say much.

“To watch him grow up and to be around him and to give him some advice from time to time has really been meaningful for me.  Today I think more about him winning a championship more than anything is pretty awesome.”

He could take a little credit for having played a small role. When he heard that Elliott would start from the back, Johnson texted Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson with a reminder that he’d done the same in his final championship four years ago.

“Of the championships I’ve won, coming from the back, I had less nervous energy in my body when I took the green flag and it was very easy what I needed to do,” Johnson said. “I shared that with him, and he smiled and he said, I hope that’s how it goes today. And it did.

“We didn’t think of it as a passing of the torch. He doesn’t need my help.  He’s plenty good on his own.”

Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson share a hug after Sunday’s race at Phoenix (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 22nd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 16th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron returns to No. 1


After last Sunday’s crashfest at Circuit of the Americas, the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings experienced another jumble, and William Byron returns to the top spot.

Byron took fifth place in the chaos of the triple-overtime finish. He and winner Tyler Reddick were the top dogs in the Cup Series’ first road race of the year, Byron leading 28 laps and Reddick 41. No one else led more than two laps.

MORE: COTA finish — Entertaining and messy

Christopher Bell, last week’s No. 1, fell to fifth place after a 31st-place finish at COTA.

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. William Byron (second last week) — Byron, the season’s only multiple winner with two, finished fifth Sunday, marking his career first top five on a road course. He won the pole and the first stage.

2. Kyle Busch (third last week) — Busch continues to make his new partnership at Richard Childress Racing look good. His second-place run Sunday is his fourth top-10 finish in the season’s first six races.

3. Ross Chastain (sixth last week) — Despite being pushed around in the late going Sunday, Chastain persisted, re-emerging at the front to challenge the leaders and finish fourth. He has finished in the top four in all three COTA races and leads the points standings.

4. Alex Bowman (fifth last week) — Bowman continued his seasonal consistency, finishing third at COTA. He has finished in the top 10 in five of six races.

5. Christopher Bell (first last week) — Bell falls from the top spot in the rankings after being booted from Sunday’s race in a late-race accident. He dropped three spots in the Cup points standings to fifth.

6. Joey Logano (fourth last week) — Logano was mostly absent from Sunday’s front-of-the-pack jousting. He limped home in 28th and drops two spots in the rankings.

7. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick bursts into the rankings in a big way, easily outclassing the rest of the field on the way to victory at COTA. Challenged repeatedly by cautions that extended the race into three overtimes, he refused to give up the shot at his first win of the year.

8. Denny Hamlin (seventh last week) — Winless this year, Hamlin nevertheless keeps popping up around the front. Sunday’s late-race mess dropped him to 16th at the checkered flag.

9. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson seemed to be the race’s pingpong ball Sunday as he was bounced around during some of the tightest racing. He rallied to reach 14th.

10. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — Harvick’s final season has been a mix of the good and the bad, with two top-five runs, challenges for wins and a 33rd-place finish at Atlanta. He was 13th Sunday.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (10th last week).


Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’


One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.