DARLINGTON, S.C. â Thereâs still hope.
Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has two regular-season races left to punch his ticket into the 16-driver playoff field. Right now, heâs outside the bubble, sitting 18th in the championship standings with 565 points (26 less than Daniel Suarez in the final spot). Johnson clearly hasnât won a race this season, otherwise heâd be postseason bound.
âItâs weird to see,â Kyle Larson said Friday at Darlington Raceway. âWhen you are watching somebody like that dominate, you never expect to see them in this position â being winless for as long as heâs been; at risk of not making the playoffs and having a chance to with the championship.
âObviously, Iâm a huge Jimmie Johnson fan. I want to see him either run well these next two races to get himself in a better points position or win. I would like to see him just win to shut everybody up.â
The last time Johnson won was June 2017 â 83 races ago. His last title run was 2016.
Among active and retired drivers, Johnson is tied for the most championships. He, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are the only ones to ever hoist trophy No. 7 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. No one else currently driving has more than one tally next to his name.
âI donât take any pleasure in someone elseâs pain, and I know thatâs probably very painful for him,â Brad Keselowski said. âI donât have any solutions. Iâm not close enough to whatâs going on over there, but it just gives you, myself included, a sense of how fragile this sport is and how fleeting success can be.â
Johnson has even switched up his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet roster. Race engineer Cliff Daniels was promoted 21 races into the season to crew chief, as Kevin Meendering was sidelined. The team has finished 19th twice (Watkins Glen International and Bristol Motor Speedway) and 34th (Michigan International Speedway) since the change.
Out of the 24 races overall, Johnson has had three top-five and eight top-10 runs. Heâs averaging a 16.2 finish. His best result was third place at Daytona International Speedway back in June.
âHe definitely still has it, and heâs not given up,â teammate Alex Bowman said. âThey have two more chances to win or get a lot of stage points and point their way in. I think everyone has learned over the years that you canât count the 48 out by any means.â
Johnson has never missed the NASCAR Playoffs, which were installed in 2004.
The hope lives within the two races remaining. The first is this Sunday at Darlington Raceway (the Bojanglesâ Southern 500 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), where Johnson has won three times in 20 starts. The second is next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to four wins by Johnson in 17 showings.
âI canât wait to shut up the keyboard warriors that are out there,â Johnson said. âThe people that are close to me, the people on my race team â they know the truth and they know the story. Weâre working hard on it, been working hard and will continue to work hard. Wins will come. Wins will be there for sure.â