AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson’s pursuit of a record eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship will have to wait until next year, after a blown tire on the final lap of the second stage put Johnson into the wall and out of contention Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
Entering the Can-Am 500 a whopping 51 points behind the cut line and coming off of dismal runs at both Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson and Chad Knaus knew their only hope of advancing into the final playoff round at Homestead-Miami Speedway was to score their fifth Phoenix win and first since 2009.
And after Johnson topped the five-lap, 10-lap and 15-lap averages in final practice on Saturday, as well as posted the sixth-fastest single-lap speed, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team believed they would have a shot at doing just that.
Unfortunately, they never found their way to the front.
Johnson barely scraped out a 10th-place run in the opening stage after qualifying 12th, and was running 11th when he lost the right front tire and went straight into the outside wall on the exit of turn four.
As Johnson grinded to a halt, so did his aspirations of standing alone in the championship category, at least this season.
“I really didn’t have any warning,” said Johnson. “This track’s notorious for being hard on brakes. I knew that I was (being) a little hard on the brakes, but the run before, we didn’t have any issues reported back. I felt like I was doing the same thing as I had been, and unfortunately, with so few laps to go to the end of the stage … as soon as I went into the corner and touched the brakes, the right front (tire) just blew.”
“I think I just got (the brakes) a little too hot trying to charge hard and drive the lap time that was needed. Such a bummer, it really is.”
Goodyear officials later confirmed that Johnson’s tire failure was caused by a melted bead due to excessive brake heat.
Johnson lamented the disappointing finish to the playoffs for his team, which endured a lackluster 12th-place finish at Martinsville and a miserable run of three laps down at Texas last weekend before Sunday’s sudden end to the road.
“I hate it for this team,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard all year long and I’m very proud of their efforts. I know it’s not the results that we want, but we’re Hendrick strong and we’ll come back from this. We may not have a chance to make eight (titles) this year, but we’ll come back next year and try just as hard.”
The seven-time and outgoing series champion admitted that his team wasn’t where they needed to be to contend for this year’s crown, with little momentum and mounting frustration over the past month as they scraped out just enough to keep moving from round to round.
“It’s disappointing, for sure. The last couple months, we’d really been staying alive … and at this stage, with how strong the Round of 8 and then the Round of 4 is … you can’t just stay alive. You’ve gotta be hitting on all cylinders, and we just haven’t been at that level, unfortunately.”
“I’m thankful for all the hard work that’s gone into this and all the efforts from (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and the team, but we just can’t get there right now.”
Though an eighth series title won’t happen this year, Johnson’s focus is on finishing the final week of the season strong and potentially snapping a career-long 22-race winless drought with his second-straight win in the Homestead finale.
“All we can do now is try again for a win next weekend, and then make some good changes during the offseason before we come back ready to go for next year,” said Johnson. “There’s still a trophy out there next year and we want to get it if we can.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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