Season Review: Jimmie Johnson
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on November 28, 2012 | 2:00 P.M. EST
Jimmie Johnson finished third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson came up short in his bid to take the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship away from Brad Keselowski and add a sixth title to his resume in 2012.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver was dealt two crippling blows in the final two races of the season at Phoenix and Homestead that thwarted his run at winning this year’s crown.
When the final checkered flag flew on the season, the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished third in the final point standings, 40 behind Keselowski.
Johnson’s season did include five wins, 18 top fives and 24 top-10 finishes as well as four poles.
He scored win number one of 2012 in May when Johnson took the checkered flag in the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Johnson led six times for 134 laps, including the final 44, en route to his third triumph at the historic track and the 200th career Sprint Cup Series milestone win for owner Rick Hendrick.
"I'm very proud of the effort that the whole 48 team put together," Johnson said. "We've been awfully close to winning the 200th for him the last month or two. Very happy that we closed the deal today."
He returned to Victory Lane later that month in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and then picked up another victory the first weekend of June at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson then became a repeat winner of the Brickyard 400 in late July when he was victorious at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Johnson led 99 of the race’s 160 laps to take his third victory of the season and tie Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the only two drivers to win the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indy four times.
“Man, you just hope to race here,” Johnson said after scoring team owner Rick Hendrick’s eighth Brickyard victory. “To come here and win is a huge honor. And to win four -- four wins! I’m at a loss for words.”
Johnson stayed in the thick of the championship hunt once the Chase began and scored back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas to remain near the top of the standings.
He was seven points ahead until trouble struck in the second-to-last race of the year at Phoenix when a cut tire sent Johnson into the wall and home with a 32nd-place finish.
"We were cruising along, and I think we were going to have a top-10 day, maybe a top five day if things worked out at the end," said Johnson, who was three points behind Keselowski at the time of the impact. "I had a slight vibration starting in the right front. As I was coming off of Turn 4, it went down and straight in the wall.
"Another 30-40 feet around the corner, I probably would have just had a flat and not hit the wall, but where it let go I had a direct line into the wall and knocked it down."
But Johnson was still in the picture heading into the season finale at Homestead and looked to be on his way to wrestling the point lead away from Keselowski. Differing strategy had pinned the Penske Racing team down to being a fuel stop behind Johnson, but fate intervened before things could play out.
First Johnson was penalized for a missing lug nut on a routine pit stop and then he was finally knocked out of the race with a drive train malfunction that sealed the deal for Keselowski.
“Definitely a disappointing finish to it all,” Johnson said, who has never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “We were putting the pressure on like we needed to. We had strategy on our side. Really in position to make it interesting there at the end. A couple of little problems – well, one problem and then a fatal issue got us at the end.
“Disappointing, for sure, but I’ve got to reflect back on an amazing year and a year where we won a lot of races, led a lot of laps, so I need to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for their efforts. Lowe’s and their support, my family, Chevrolet and my wife and daughter for their great support, too.”
2012 Top 12 Season Reviews
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Greg Biffle
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Tony Stewart
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Martin Truex Jr.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.