Missing first postseason might be a blessing for Jimmie Johnson

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - AUGUST 30: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Throwback Chevrolet, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on August 30, 2019 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Sure, Jimmie Johnson wants to qualify for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs this year.

And, certainly, he’d like to keep intact his unique streak of advancing to the NASCAR postseason every year there has been a postseason.

Realistically, though, the seven-time series champion faces an uphill battle if he hopes to race for the title this year. In the throes of an 83-race winless streak, Johnson is 18th in the standings, 26 points behind Daniel Suarez in 16th and 24 behind Clint Bowyer in 17th.

Johnson would have to pass both drivers in the next two races to claim the 16th and final Playoff spot, provided there are no new winners among those behind him in the standings. That’s a tall order.

Should Johnson’s enviable Playoff streak end, however, there might be a silver lining. He and new crew chief Cliff Daniels would have 10 races to work on improvements for 2020, the final year of Johnson’s current contract with Hendrick Motorsports.

“It’s really about building this team and getting it right for the next year—for the 2020 season and getting back to Victory Lane,” Johnson said. “The goals kind of stay the same, but we all know the pressure is looming on us heavily right now to make the Playoffs. If that pressure does go away, then I think we will be able to speed up the learning process amongst each other.

“I hope it doesn’t go away, because that means we made the Playoffs and have to stay alive in the Playoffs. We’d much rather have this pressure and keep evolving as a team than have it go away.”

Clearly, keeping the Playoff streak alive is the preferable of the two possible outcomes. To that end, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet hopes to make the next two races memorable.

“It’s a story,” Johnson said. “I get it. Believe me, I want to keep my Playoff streak alive, and I want to be a factor in the Playoffs. I want to know what the outcome is, but it’s not that I want to hurry up and get through it and have it go away. I want to race. I want to get out there and earn another victory and earn my way into these Playoffs.

“That’s what we’re all here for. So, my optimism again, comes from that I just know where this team is right now, and I know where it’s going. Unfortunately, we don’t have any more time left, but we’re going to finish up the year strong and that brings me a lot of excitement regardless of how the Playoffs unfold.”

Greg Engle