By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
To say that Jimmie Johnson has had a rough go of things in 2018 would be an understatement and Sunday’s race at Darlington only added insult to injury as a mechanical failure resulted in a 39th place finish.
Johnson, who sits 15th in points, just ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, needed an issue-free race to be able to aid his chances of making it into the Playoffs, but he got anything but that in the Southern 500.
From the start of the weekend, Johnson found himself playing catch-up after qualifying 20th, but scraping the wall in the process, forcing the team to have to make unapproved adjustments before the race, which sent him to the rear of the field for the green flag.
Things didn’t get much better in the race as Johnson had a loose wheel in the early laps that would result in an unscheduled pit stop for the No. 48 team. Unfortunately for Johnson, he would be penalized during that visit to pit road due to a commitment line violation, meaning a second trip down pit road, putting them even further behind the eight-ball for the remainder of the race.
At lap 227, Johnson’s race finally came to a screeching halt as an issue with the oil pump sent him to the garage and eventually brought his day to an early end.
“Something with the oil pump,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure if it’s the belt or the pump itself, but it would take too long to kind of pull the engine a part and fix it. I think the engine is okay, but something with oil pressure. I had zero oil pressure and the engine went into protection mode and wouldn’t run.”
As a result of Sunday’s DNF, Johnson now sits just 87 points ahead of the cut-off line for the Playoffs, putting him in the danger zone of possibly not making it into the postseason for the first time in his career should things not go their way next weekend at Indianapolis.
“I mean it sucks,” the seven-time champion added. “I don’t want to be in this position. We have been around this spot for a while. We have seen it coming. We just need to transfer and honestly, I think our cars are capable of running in the top five. If we can just start minimizing mistakes, my own included, we will be much better off and have a shot.
“There is no need to flip out now. We have had a pretty rough year to this point. We have been working hard, unfortunately just haven’t had the results. We will keep working hard. There is no quit in myself or this team.”