Jimmie Johnson looks forward to ‘clean start’ after first winless season

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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.”

 

What drivers said after Cup playoff race at Miami

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Joey Logano — Winner: “No, I told you we weren’t and showed you why were not (the underdog). We were the favorite like I told you before the race started. I am so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business. … I can’t wait to break that Mustang out.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “I just needed time. That’s all I needed. They were faster than us for 15 or 20 laps all day long. It was like a reverse scenario from last year. Last year we took advantage of the short run car at the end – the 18 (Kyle Busch) car should’ve won the race and tonight we should’ve won the race and they (Joey Logano) took advantage of the short-run car. I don’t know what else we could’ve done. Honestly, we worked our guts out all weekend and just to get here, I told you earlier we shut a lot of people up and made them eat crow and that felt good. To come here and almost upset the field and almost win it back to back was really awesome. I just wish that last caution hadn’t come out. Other than that, I don’t know what we could’ve done.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 3rd: “Obviously, we got loose as the night went on. Really, it was a great pit call there in position to win the race if the caution doesn’t come out and we came down to a pit stop and a restart and we didn’t do either good. I just hate it for all our guys on our Jimmy John’s Ford.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 4th: “Just not at all what we wanted obviously and not what we expected either. We knew the 22 (Joey Logano) was fast, but man, I thought we were way closer than that. We kind of held up the first half of the race, but after that we were just never close. I don’t know what happened, just didn’t have the feel in the race car that I needed tonight. Just all night long, as soon as we got out of the gas and into the corner we were just sideways, just turning to the right and trying to save it. You do that for 50 or 60 laps, whatever it is on tires and you just can’t hang on. I couldn’t hang after eight laps, let alone the 50. Bummed for all of our guys, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. This M&M’s Camry team was really, really good – just not good enough on the night we wanted the most. We finished fourth, last of the Playoff guys. That’s not what it takes these days.

Chase Elliott — Finished 7th: “Man, if we make this (Championship) 4 one day, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 8th: “I want to congratulate everyone at Ford Performance. I wish it were Kevin (Harvick) winning the championship, but I’m glad we kept it in the Ford family. That was a decent way to end the season tonight for us. We didn’t qualify like we wanted Friday, but we had a good car tonight. We’ve had a good year. My guys have worked hard and had a lot of fun and a lot of success. We’re ready for a break, but it won’t be long, and we’ll be ready to go to Daytona and start the new season.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 9th: “It was a great year for us, our first year working together. That was quite an accomplishment for us to battle the way we battled and to come out of here with a top five in points, I’m just really proud of everybody on this Smithfield team. Ford had an amazing year. We won 19 races, so just an incredible year and I’m really excited about getting ready for 2019.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “Man, I really wanted a top-10 finish today to finish out the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and we came so close. Our Dow UCON Camaro ZL1 had handling issues for most of the race, but I had confidence in crew chief Justin Alexander and the Dow Racing team that they would be able to work on our Camaro ZL1 during pit stops. They’ve been great at that all season long. We knew half the battle was gaining track position and we worked hard to do that both on the track and on pit road. By the final stage, the handling improved a lot. I was digging at the end but came up just short of a 10th-place finish. That was fun. I want to thank everyone at RCR and ECR and all of our partners for a great 2018 season. We were able to accomplish a lot together and I’m looking forward to next year.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 13th: “I didn’t push it too early because I ran up there every lap, but I don’t know… I guess lost focus or whatever and hit the wall. I’m pretty mad at myself about that because I felt like we had a really good shot to win there and I just gave it away.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 14th: “It’s tough. When you think of the relationship with Lowe’s, I hate to see that come to an end. Seventeen, 18 years really when you look at my first three races that I ran for them, everything we accomplished together, their belief in me and the company’s support of me and this team over the years. So that is one piece and then the other piece obviously with Chad (Knaus), you know it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with. But he 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. We knew this was coming prior to the release or the announcement, I should say, but the season is behind us now and I look forward to a good off season and get geared up for 2019.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 15th: “Our E-Z-GO Camaro ZL1 was consistent all weekend. We turned in a great qualifying effort, made it to the final round and started eighth. No matter what changes we threw at it tonight, our Camaro ZL1 was tight through the middle of the corner and crazy loose off. I want to thank Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to drive for him these last five seasons. To my crew chief Luke (Lambert), my crew, my teammate Austin (Dillon), and all the RCR team members, I want to say thank you. It was an honor to work with so many incredible people and partners over the years. We did great things together and it sure was fun to run for championships and give Luke his first ever Cup win.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 22nd: “I appreciate all of the hard work that this Germain Racing team put in all year long to get our GEICO Camaro ZL1 to the track every week. Our road crew leaves their families behind each weekend, and all of our guys put in countless hours at the shop. We didn’t have the results this year that we wanted, but we had a lot of great racing moments and this team never gave up. That hard work mentality isn’t going to end just because the season is over. They will all be back in the shop tomorrow morning to start building our cars for the 2019 season. We’re in this together, and there’s nobody else that I wanted battling with me tonight in Homestead and come February for the Daytona 500.”

William Byron — Finished 24th: “It was a good effort today, but things didn’t go our way. Overall, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but it’s been a good learning experience. We’ll get back after it in 2019.”

 

Joey Logano wins Cup finale in Miami, championship

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Joey Logano clinched his first Cup Series title Sunday with a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano led the final 12 laps after he passed Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 1 on the outside. Truex, who finished second, never challenged Logano again.

Kevin Harvick placed third and Kyle Busch finished fourth.

MORE: Harvick and Busch come up short in career years

“We did it! We won the championship. I can’t believe it,” Logano told NBC. “I don’t even know what to say. This team, Roger Penske, (crew chief) Todd Gordon, the pit crew, oh my God. Those guys are amazing. They gave me the car I needed at the end to do my job. Put me in position to do my job. Couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Logano’s championship comes in his 10th full-time season in Cup, his sixth with Team Penske and a year after he missed the playoffs.

“I’ve worked my whole life to get here,” Logano said. “I’ve spent 10 seasons fighting for this. Wasn’t sure we were going to get it, but man, Todd made a great adjustment there at the end. He has a no quit attitude and I was going to pass (Truex) no matter what.”

Truex, the defending champion, finished second after he led 20 laps. It was the final race for Furniture Row Racing, which will close with the end of the season.

“I’m going to miss these guys, wish we could have won it,” Truex told NBC. “We had it. We couldn’t go over 15 laps. I knew that last restart was going be tough … I was just slow for 15 laps.”

The championship is the second for Team Penske, which won its first in 2012 with Brad Keselowski.

The title is the first for Ford in Cup since Kurt Busch won it in 2004.

Logano entered the race as the only member of the Championship 4 without a title.

The race’s final 15-lap run was set up by a caution involving Daniel Suarez and Brad Keselowski. Busch led at the time, the only one of the Championship 4 who had not made a green flag pit stop.

Busch then beat the field off pit road, but Truex took the lead on the restart.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Larson

MORE: Race results

MORE: Final point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: In likely his final Cup start, Matt Kenseth finished sixth for his best result in 15 starts this year … Brad Keselowski placed fifth for his third top five in the last four races.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Larson led 45 laps but finished 13th after he cut a tire and got into wall on Lap 193 … After his incident with Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez placed 30th in his last start with Joe Gibbs Racing … Regan Smith finished 39th, 27 laps off the lead after he went to the garage during the pre-race pace laps for an oil leak.

NOTABLE: Denny Hamlin (12 years) and Jimmie Johnson (16 years) each ended streaks of seasons with at least one win … Johnson placed 14th in his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus and with sponsor Lowe’s.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “Just a lot of screaming. I think I pulled a muscle.” – Joey Logano to NBC on what he did as he took the checkered flag.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I don’t want him to change at all. In fact I think he did just what he did today. He beat all these guys fair and square.” – Roger Penske to NBCSN on Joey Logano.

WHAT’S NEXT: Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17.

Social media reacts to Jimmie Johnson’s clean-shaven look

Photo: Dustin Long
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – To commemorate his final race with sponsor Lowe’s and final race with Chad Knaus as crew chief, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson went back to 2002 with his look.

His No. 48 Chevrolet features a throwback look to his rookie season. His uniform harkens to that time.

Johnson also shaved his beard for the weekend, going back to his look when he made his Cup debut Oct. 7, 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson began having a beard regularly at the start of the 2009 season. He had previously grown one during the offseason but would go back to the clean look before the season began. Johnson was a part of the inaugural Gillette Young Guns ads in 2004 that also included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.

Friday, Johnson took fans back in time.

Social media had much to say about Johnson’s new look at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Championship weekend preview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America is a special two-hour edition that previews the looming Championship weekend in Miami and airs from 5-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut. They are joined by Kyle Petty in Charlotte and Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rutledge Wood, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider, Dave Burns & Nate Ryan bring you the latest from Media Day in Miami.

On today’s show:

  • You’ll see interviews with all of the Championship 4 in both the Monster Energy Cup Series and the Xfinity Series.
  • Veteran NASCAR spotter Tony Hirschman will talk about his very busy weekend in Miami, where he’ll be spotting for Championship 4 contenders in the Cup Series (Kyle Busch), Xfinity Series (Christopher Bell), and Camping World Truck Series (Noah Gragson). Plus: SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Pete Pistone tells us what the fans are thinking ahead of the weekend.
  • Miami will mark the end of Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus’ partnership together, but it could also close out several other careers. Which drivers are set to step away from the car, and which face an uncertain future?

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.