21 Nov 2019
Seven-time NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson has announced that the 2020 season will be his last as a full-time competitor in stock car racing’s premier competition.
The California native, who made his Cup series debut in 2001, has spent his entire Cup career driving the #48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, where he has racked up 83 wins and 364 top-10 finishes as well as his record-equalling title haul.
“I’m so thankful for 18 incredible years of racing in NASCAR,” said Johnson. “The sport has been good to me. It has allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing a dream and achieved more than I ever thought possible.”
“I’m looking forward to next season and celebrating what will be my last year as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver,” he added. “I know what this team is capable of, and I hope 2020 is one of the best yet.”
The announcement of Johnson’s impending departure comes seven weeks after his primary sponsor Ally extended its agreement with Hendrick Motorsports through to the end of the 2023 season. At the time of that announcement Johnson refused to be drawn on whether he’d be remaining behind the wheel for the duration of the deal, insisting that he hadn’t yet decided on his future.
NBC reported that Johnson made the decision to hang up his helmet approximately three weeks ago, and broke the news to current and former members of his #48 at a private lunch earlier this week, before the news was made public.
While Johnson has enjoyed one of the most storied careers in NASCAR history, his recent years have been blighted by poor form and mistakes.
His most recent title triumph came in 2016, while his most recent race win was at the June race at Dover in 2017. This year he failed to make the playoffs for the first time since the format was introduced in 2004, and finished the season 18th in the standings, his lowest finishing position of his career.
At the end of 2018 Johnson’s long-term backer Lowe’s departed NASCAR after two decades of involvement at various levels. Lowe’s departure coincided with the exit of Johnson’s long-term crew chief Chad Knaus, who moved over the the #24 team to oversee William Byron’s efforts. Knaus was a key part of Johnson’s success, sitting atop of the pit box for all-but-three of Johnson’s Cup series starts prior to 2019.
Knaus was replaced initially by Kevin Meendering but after back-to-back 30th place finishes race engineer Cliff Daniels took over the role ahead of the Watkins Glen race. The change brought a slight improvement in on-track performance, but the results remained disappointing, with Johnson managing just four more top-10 finishes in the second half of 2019.
Hendrick Motorsport hasn’t yet confirmed its plans for the #48 car beyond 2020, but early fan speculation has linked Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson with Johnson’s ride. The 27-year-old is currently contracted to the Chevrolet outfit for 2020, but not 2021.
Johnson meanwhile has previously expressed an interest in competing in IMSA, IndyCar, World of Outlaws Sprint Car racing following his NASCAR career but at a press conference discussing his retirement Johnson stressed that he has no immediate plans to race elsewhere.
Petty, Earnhardt, Johnson. Jimmie Johnson will go down as one of NASCAR’s greatest-ever drivers, and not just because of his seven championship wins, which puts him level with the great Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Johnson also managed to do something no other driver has ever managed, which was to win five championships in a row.
Although many discount his titles because of the polarising playoff format implemented during his reign, Johnson’s triumphs spanned a number of different iterations of the format. What’s more, Johnson’s seven titles came across three very different car build regulations, showing his (and his team’s) ability to adapt and overcome change better than others.
Over 18 full-time campaigns in NASCAR’s premier division Johnson has amassed 83 wins to-date, putting him sixth on the all-time wins list, and highest of all current active drivers. Of those victories, two came at the famed Daytona 500.
As well as Daytona, Johnson achieved multiple victories in NASCAR’s other crown jewel events, winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis four-times apiece, and the Southern 500 at Darlington twice. Johnson also won the non-championship All Star race in 2005.
He has a record number of wins at seven NASCAR tracks as well, with 11 wins at Dover, nine at Martinsville, eight at Charlotte, seven at Texas, six at Fontana, four at Las Vegas, and three at Kansas (equal with Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick).
At the end of next year Johnson will leave a sport where he may not have always been appreciated as much as he ought to have been, but in years to come he be be revered by many, having rightfully earned his place on a hypothetical NASCAR Mount Rushmore.
You can bet your house that once he becomes eligible at the end of the 2023 season, Jimmie Johnson will be a first-ballot hall of famer.