CHARLOTTE N.C.– Jimmie Johnson is used to being first.
He was the first to five consecutive championships. He was the first driver to win the Coca-Cola 600 in three consecutive years. He has finished first a record 10 times at the Dover International Speedway.
In fact, he’s finished first 77 times in his storied NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
Something over this past weekend, however, puts him in another, more notorious category of firsts.
Watkins Glen International, the site of the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, happened to become the location of Johnson’s first-ever last place finish at the Cup level.
Johnson was involved in an incident at lap 54 of 90, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control of his car exiting the carousel. Stenhouse then hit the inside wall, sending him back in front of traffic, where Johnson had nowhere to go.
The six-time series champion slammed into the passenger door of Stenhouse’s idle Ford Fusion, causing heavy damage to both machines and ending their hopes for a solid finish on the 2.54-mile New York road course.
Following the incident that brought out the red flag, Johnson was visibly and audibly shaken.
“The cars started checking up in front of me and they all moved out of the way and the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse) was sitting there, stopped,” Johnson explained. “I remember seeing a door number … and I was so thankful it was the passenger-side door and not the driver-side door, because I plowed him (Stenhouse). I really hit the car hard.”
“I was afraid that I might have injured him. But, thankfully he’s okay and everybody is all right.”
A dejected Johnson then tried to find a silver lining from the event.
“It’s unfortunate for this Jimmie Johnson Foundation car and a big thank you once again, to Lowe’s for letting us run that paint scheme on the car. I guess we got them some on-camera exposure today, but not the kind we wanted.”
Considering the amount of races he has driven in the series — 529, in total, over his 15 year career — one would think the 40-year-old El Cajon, California native would have suffered a fate at the bottom of the barrel long before this past weekend in Upstate New York.
To put the run of avoiding last by Johnson into perspective, the last time the No. 48 finished last in a Cup race was back in 1993, with James Hylton driving a Pontiac at Richmond. Hylton started 38th and finished 40th.
It took another 23 years before another driver occupying the No. 48 accomplished that feat again.
For the record, 1993 also happened to be the first year Johnson’s now-car owner Jeff Gordon sat behind the wheel of the iconic No. 24.
Simply put, the most impressive part of this situation isn’t so much the fact that Johnson finished last on Sunday, it’s that it took him this long to finish last.
Therein lies the brilliance and greatness of Jimmie Johnson, though.
Through all of the terrible weekends and rough moments, he has always found a way persevere, survive and make himself a household name through pure consistency. That has led to a domination of the sport the likes we may never see again.
Sure, a first-time last place finisher is finally something one can call Jimmie Johnson.
But luckily in his case, being called a six-time champion has a much better ring to it.
About the Writer
Rence Brown is Race Chaser Online’s West Coast-based correspondent, residing in California and carrying a passion for NASCAR dating back to his first encounter with the sport in 2006, when he viewed a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from Bristol Motor Speedway.
Brown, 23, graduated with a degree in theater, but is going back to school to pursue a journalism degree at Pierce College.
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