By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For Jimmie Johnson, the race weekend at Watkins Glen International was anything but typical for the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion.
Johnson was 16th and 22nd in the only two practice sessions. Johnson qualified his No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS 13th after just missing the final round in qualifying.
As the race started, Johnson slid back to 15th. Johnson’s descent was slowed as the caution waved for debris.
On the restart, Johnson immediately began to move back up through the field. Johnson reached the 13th position, where he started, on lap 20. Johnson pitted a lap later. Unfortunately for Johnson, he was busted for speeding entering pit road. To add insult to injury, Johnson was also over the line of his pit box and his team was penalized for having crewmembers not in contact with the tire.
Johnson came back down and pitted for fuel, which is not allowed while serving a penalty, and was issued a Pass-Thru penalty. Johnson’s woes continued as he sped entering pit road to serve his Pass-Thru penalty and then had to perform a Stop-and-Go in his pit box.
When it was all said and done, Johnson finally rejoined the race on lap 24, one lap behind the leaders in 38th.
By lap 40, Johnson had moved up only one spot, into 37th and had worked his way back onto the lead lap, but was trapped deep in the field. It looked as if Johnson had finally found relief when a caution waved on lap 49 for a loose wheel on pit road.
Johnson restarted deep in the field in the 35th position. As the mad scramble on the restart continued ahead, Johnson was mired deep in traffic.
Exiting the Carousel, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No 17 Ford Fusion broke loose and spun across the track. Many cars swerved out of the way, but for Johnson, it was too late. Johnson slammed into Stenhouse’s car, sending it whipping around. Greg Biffle and Austin Dillon were also involved in the accident as the tried to avoid Stenhouse. The accident and the ensuing clean up caused the race to be red flagged.
A video of the accident can be seen below:
The accident left Johnson in the 38th position, however, both Michael Annett and Regan Smith were able to get their cars back on track and eventually pass Johnson.
This left Johnson in the 40th position, last place with 36 Charters and four Open teams in the race. The damage to Johnson’s car was too much, and his Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team retired from the race.
This was the first time in Johnson’s Sprint Cup Series career that he has ever finished in last.
A tired and disappointed Johnson was still able to find a positive in the accident that resulted in his first last place finish in 529 races.
“Yeah, we had a rough first pit stop and then we were just kind of biding our time and trying to get on a fuel strategy that could benefit us. The cars started checking up in front of me and they all moved out of the way and the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse) was sitting there, stopped. I remember seeing a door number and I was so thankful it was the passenger-side door and not the driver-side door because I plowed him. I really hit the car hard. I was afraid that I might have injured him. But, thankfully he’s okay and everybody is all right. It’s unfortunate for this Jimmie Johnson Foundation car and a big thank you once again, to Lowe’s for letting us run that paint scheme on the car. I guess we got them some on-camera exposure today, but not the kind we wanted.”