Jimmie Johnson‘s quest for a record eighth Cup championship ended in a crash in the final laps of Saturday night’s regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson finished 17th and failed to earn a playoff spot. It’s the second year in row he has missed the playoffs after he made it 15 years in a row. William Byron made the playoffs by winning the race. Matt DiBenedetto also advanced, beating Johnson by six points.

“That’s the disappointing part,” Johnson said, “to look back at ones that got away, ones that I never got a shot at like the Brickyard (after testing positive for COVID-19) and to miss it only by six points. I knew it was going to be an emotional couple of weeks going down the stretch and in the position we were in.

“It’s not like this is a shock or a surprise. My emotions are what I expected. I’m definitely disappointed. … After a couple of beers and a flight home, I’ll get a good night’s rest and try to shake it off (Sunday) and just focus on the next race.”

Johnson’s hopes were ruined when he was collected in an 11-car crash that set up the overtime finish.

Trouble occurred two laps from the scheduled distance. Joey Logano was in the middle lane when he had contact with Denny Hamlin and bounced off Bubba Wallace as they raced for the lead. William Byron went between them, as the leaders went four-wide in Turn 1 with Hamlin on the bottom.

Byron made contact with Logano, who slowed and was hit from behind by DiBenedetto. That turned Logano into Matt Kenseth in the bottom lane. That hit and then contact from behind by Christopher Bell sent Kenseth up the track and into Johnson. Kenseth’s car slammed Johnson’s car into the wall. Johnson’s car suffered significant damage.

“As we came by the start/finish line, I could see some rooftops moving around and I knew something was going on,” Johnson said. “I saw (Wallace’s) car in the outside wall, but he gathered it up and we all kind of got rolling again down into Turn 1. I could not see really what started things on the lower lanes, but I got the right side into the wall a little bit and then somebody clobbered me from the bottom.”

Johnson missed the playoffs last year after a crash in the regular-season finale at Indianapolis.

Since Johnson has said this is his last full-time season in Cup, Saturday night was his last chance to earn a playoff spot and go for a record eighth Cup title.

“I have not put as much on this being my last year as others have,” he said. “It’s been about performing. It’s been about being competitive. It’s been about getting this race team where it deserves to be. Last year, we were in a rebuilding phase and had to overcome a lot. This year, we don’t really have much to rebuild, we just need to execute. I think I had more optimism to make the (playoffs) this year than last year.”

As Johnson failed to earn a playoff spot, Byron and Johnson’s former crew chief, Chad Knaus, celebrated their entry into the postseason.

“I’m so happy for (Knaus),” Johnson said. “I really am. He is a brother to me. The bond and relationship that we have and friendship we have. I am genuinely so happy for Chad Knaus, William Byron, that entire 24 team. … They’re my teammates. I’m in the trenches with them week in and week out.”

So now what for Johnson?

“There are 10 more chances to take a trophy home,” he said. “That’s all were focused on at this point. Nothing else matters. It’s about winning races and finishing up this year as we should.”





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