Thursday, 19 September 2019

Darlington, ‘bad luck’ don’t help Jimmie Johnson’s playoff hopes – NASCAR

Darlington, ‘bad luck’ don’t help Jimmie Johnson’s playoff hopes – NASCAR
03 Sep

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Good wasn’t good enough. Jimmie Johnson needed to be great.

A 16th-place finish didn’t do the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet any postseason justice Saturday at Darlington Raceway. Nor did it accurately represent Johnson’s overall run in the Bojangles’ Southern 500. Because for a majority of the 367 laps, Johnson did run in the top five or 10.

“Great car. Great stops. Just bad luck,” Johnson said. “I guess I had 15 years of really good luck and the last two or three have been pretty bad.”

RELATED: Darlington results | Championship standings

Especially on Lap 276, when the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion got caught in a multi-car wreck while running fourth. He never fully recovered after his left front took the brunt of the damage.

There were 86 laps to go when the field returned to green, with Johnson 13th.

“It sucks really bad,” crew chief Cliff Daniels said. “At that point, because the nose wasn’t ripped off the car, I knew we still had a fighting chance to either get a lead-lap finish or a top-20 finish. Our day wasn’t totally over. So, man, we kept fighting.”

Pit stops were the only reason Johnson ever made it back into the top 10. He was scored the leader with 43 laps to go but pitted himself three go-arounds later. Once everyone cycled through, he stayed put in the upper teens – and a lap down.

“It’s not the result we want,” Johnson said, “but we’re definitely going in the right direction.”

Or at least staying stagnant.

Before Darlington, Johnson was ranked 18th in the championship standings – 26 points below the 16-drive cutline. The placement remains the same, but now 18 points separate him and the postseason with one regular-season race left at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s so hard and also unfair to put pressure on this race and the next race,” Johnson said. “We’ve had however many to get here and made a lot of mistakes along the way. It might come down to just a few points. You look at any race this year, we could have strung a few more points together.”

Johnson did earn the most stage points among the bubble drivers (Clint Bowyer finished sixth and ranks 15th; Daniel Suarez finished 11th and ranks 16th; Ryan Newman finished 23rd and ranks 17th). The HMS driver wound up with 13, finishing Stage 1 in second and Stage 2 in seventh. Bowyer got five from his sixth-place Stage 2 showing. Newman and Suarez didn’t receive any.

Johnson also earned the second-most points total (34) in that group. Bowyer took the better mark at 36, while Suarez and Newman had 26 and 14, respectively.

RELATED: Johnson’s driver page | Shop Johnson gear

Still, the gap between Johnson and the others was too big to close. Only tighten.

“I know that we actually ended up gaining just a little bit of points in the total picture, whatever that means,” Daniels said. “To be honest, Jimmie and I have had a lot of conversations about it, and we’re just trying to methodically make sure we’re building this team the right way rather than stab and steer and try to go for a Hail Mary. That’s not always the best approach. We’re definitely going to be methodical as we approach Indy, which is exactly what we did for here.”

And it almost worked.

Ten drivers have won a race this season, now including Erik Jones at Darlington. They’re all guaranteed a playoff berth. Kyle Larson, William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola then all clinched on points.

That leaves only two spots open.

“I didn’t even know who won,” Johnson said. “It is what it is. We’re going to keep digging.”



« »


Related Articles