LAS VEGAS â Cat Stevens was right and so was Sheryl Crow: The first cut is the deepest.
Thatâs the case for Jimmie Johnson, as feelings from missing the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs of his career sink in. The 10-race, 16-driver party didnât have room on the invitation list for the seven-time champion.
As Johnson continues to rebuild the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team alongside crew chief Cliff Daniels, the goals are set, the vision is clear and confidence is through the roof.
But that doesnât stop the sting.
âThereâs tons of excitement and optimism around that, but seeing everybody partying over there on the Strip, doing burnouts and everything, all the guys that made the playoffs, that hurt,â Johnson said. âThereâs no way around it.â
The fact itâs painful to watch his competitors compete for a title without him proves the fire still burns bright. Of course, Johnson is not done yet. He just has to wait another year to fight for a record-setting eighth championship.
âI want to be a part of all that, and I should be,â Johnson said. âSo, as I kind of analyze that, Iâm glad it hurts. If it didnât hurt, I think thereâd be a problem.â
Adding insult to injury, all three of Johnsonâs teammates are postseason bound, as Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron get ready to fight for a championship beginning with Sunday nightâs NASCAR Playoffs opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriuxXM NASCAR Radio).
âI even said to my teammates in our debriefs on Tuesday congratulations and take advantage of this opportunity that you have,â Johnson said. âIâd do anything to be in your position to have a shot at an eighth championship right now.â
Disappointment aside, Elliott thinks Johnson will be an asset for all three teams over the next 10 weeks given the experience he carries.
âIâm going to lean on him,â Elliott said. âI try to lean on him as much as I can. I wish I was racing him to be a part of it as well, but I know how the kind of guy he is and the reason heâs a seven-time champion is because of the attitude he carries and I know heâs going to find the silver lining in it somewhere.
âI know thatâs hard to find and it may not be this week and it may not be next week, but I know heâs going to find it at some point, and I expect heâll come back stronger.â