Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Johnson Eliminated from Playoffs After Rare Mistake

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – A rare mistake by seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson resulted in his elimination from the 2018 Playoffs. The Hendrick Motorsports driver gave it his all trying to win the Bank of America ROVAL 400, instead of looking at the big picture.

After avoiding a multi-car melee, Johnson restarted second in a two-lap shootout. His No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 closed the gap on race leader Martin Truex, Jr. in every corner. Johnson loosened the defending series champion in turns 13 and 14. However, he wheel-hopped in turn 16. His Chevrolet spun sideways and slid into Truex, causing both to miss the final chicane coming to the checkered.

“I had been so good into that final breaking zone, I really felt like I could put some pressure on them and take a shot at it,” Johnson explained. “I got out of the chicane on the back straightaway better than he did and put some pressure on him. Got him loose and off the bottom and I thought that was my chance. Unfortunately, down here through the bumps coming into that braking zone, I just locked up the rears and couldn’t control my car and spun.”

To avoid serving a time penalty, Johnson pulled off to the left and stopped. By the time he moved forward and took the checkered flag in eighth. Johnson dropped to eighth on track, his seven-point advantage evaporated. Jeffrey Earnhardt spun to avoid and stalled, allowing Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola to tie Johnson’s point total. The 42-year-old was eliminated from the Playoffs via a tiebreaker.

“I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly, I did and spun him around,” Johnson dejectedly said. “Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their day which I feel bad about. I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.”

Overall, the race was one of the best for Johnson this season, regardless of the finish. He finished the first two stages in sixth and second respectively. Johnson swiftly maneuvered his way through the field in the final laps of the second stage. He earned as many stage points as he could, tying Almirola and Larson in the end.

Truex, who was on the receiving end of Johnson’s mistake, viewed the move as desperation.

“Last corner desperation behind us, that’s what you get I gave him the inside lane and he had the run through (turn) four and I was real tight down there. I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of four there to the chicane. He just over-drove it and was never going to make it and used me as brakes and turned us both around.

“It sucks, we could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the Playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”

Johnson’s elimination from the Playoffs marks the second consecutive year in which he has failed to make it to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now he will have the opportunity to assume the role of Playoff spoiler for the remaining seven races.

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Seth Eggert has followed NASCAR his entire life. Seth is currently pursuing a writing career and is majoring in Communications and Journalism. He is an avid iRacer and video gamer. Seth also tutors students at Mitchell Community College in multiple subjects. He has an Associate's Degree in History.