By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 19
Career Wins: 83
Accomplishments: Seven Cup Series championships (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2016)
One last ride.
After announcing over the offseason that the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season would be his last, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are gearing up to send the greatest driver of his generation off with a season to remember.
For so long, Johnson had been the king of the mountain, winning 83 races and seven championships since first entering the Cup Series in 2002. However, even the greatest athletes eventually falter at some point and for Johnson and the No. 48 team, that has come over the last two years.
Currently riding a winless streak dating back to June 2017, Johnson went back and forth on his future plans throughout the 2019 season, but in the fall, he finally settled on the decision that 2020 would be his last driving full-time in NASCAR’s top division.
“Many of you that know me, I like to have a plan and I like to think things through,” Johnson said of the process he went through in making the decision to step away after 2020. “I did plenty of that through the spring and summer, just knowing I have to make a decision. In my mind, I felt like I needed to make a decision by the end of the year. Nothing really hit me in the gut with the feeling that I wanted to stay or stop at the end of 2020. As the year went on and we rolled into October, the feeling just became real. It really did and it felt good to think about.
“It was such a profound moment that I really take it back to the moment in time where I knew I wanted to buy a ring for her (pointing to his wife Chandra); it was just that strong in my stomach. I was like ‘wow, this is what I want to do’…I feel very, very good about my decision. It’s time.
“I feel so fortunate that it showed up to me in that way. I’ve talked to greats like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr.; everyone has had their own journey. Some of those guys maybe set a date and left before their heart really wanted to leave. There are a lot of other athletes that their time is called and they don’t have that opportunity to pick their own. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity. It just feels right.”
Currently tied with Cale Yarborough at seventh on the all-time wins list, with a substantial number of crown jewel wins, including two Daytona 500 wins, four Brickyard 400 victories, four Coca-Cola 600 wins and two Southern 500 wins, Johnson still has more to prove in his final season in the No. 48 car.
He wants to break the seven championship tie he currently holds with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and bring home an eighth championship – a true mic drop moment to wrap up such a storied career.
“First of all, the outlook for next year is to absolutely win races and be in that championship four,” Johnson said. “If you’re in that championship four, at Phoenix now, you’ve got a shot. And that is absolutely the goal for next year. I have the fire.
“Our team is getting stronger. I think Hendrick Motorsports as a whole; we’ve had a great evolution through the course of 2019. We have some new things coming our way for 2020.”
With Cliff Daniels back atop the pit box, Johnson is absolutely correct in his thinking that he and the team can compete for the championship in 2020.
While he and the team have faltered in recent years, there’s something about the entire group at Hendrick Motorsports wanting to send Johnson out on a high note, with him hoisting the championship trophy at Phoenix in November and then riding off into the sunset.
We all love storybook endings…why not have one of our own 10 months from now?