Season Review: Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

Although he scored three wins, it was a challenging year for Jimmie Johnson, who recorded career lows in a number of categories, including top fives, top 10s and laps led. (Photo: Getty Images)

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2017 Race-by-Race Results | 2017 Detailed Statistics

After securing his record-tying seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship in 2016, Jimmie Johnson entered 2017 with hopes of breaking the record he shared with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, and claiming his eighth title in NASCAR’s premier series.

Johnson’s quest would be different than in past years. With the introduction of stage racing in 2017 and a new points structure to determine where drivers ranked during the playoffs, he was optimistic that his team could adjust and conquer the enhanced race format.

"Our team has always been good at adapting and winning championships in various formats," Johnson said before the season began. "We take pride in that and look forward to the new challenge. As the season gets started, we’ll understand changes in the way teams approach each weekend."

Johnson’s season got off to a rocky start with a crash and a 34th-place finish at Daytona. That was followed by 19th in Atlanta and 11th at Las Vegas. It wasn’t until the fourth race of the season at Phoenix that Johnson finished in the top 10 and the seventh race of the year at Texas before his first top five.

That top-five finish was a big one.

After starting at the rear of the field, Johnson charged to the front and took the checkered flag - his seventh in "The Lone Star State." With a playoff berth firmly in his grasp, Johnson went to Bristol the following week and scored the win there, as well, and added a third victory to his season tally five races later at Dover at the beginning of June.

Jimmie JohnsonThe win at Dover, the 83rd of his career, tied him with Hall of Fame driver and a favorite of Johnson’s while growing up, Cale Yarborough.

"I never thought I'd end up here in NASCAR as a kid racing in the dirt in Southern California," Johnson said after his Dover triumph. "I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother. We were driving across the country and we pulled up to a Hardee’s. I had no idea it was a burger stand and I really thought when I walked in the door, I was going to see Cale Yarborough’s race shop. It was very disappointing.

"To be here and tie him at 83 wins is amazing.”

With three wins in the first 13 races of the season, Johnson sat sixth in points and looked as if he was on another championship drive. His status with Hendrick Motorsports was further cemented later in June as he announced a contract extension through 2020 to remain the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet.

"Winning seven championships and 83 races was inconceivable and now we have the opportunity to do even more together," Johnson said after announcing the extension. "It says a lot to have one sponsor, one crew chief and one team for so long. I couldn’t be more proud to represent everyone at Lowe’s and Hendrick Motorsports, and I continue to be as grateful for the opportunity as I was when we started."

With his future secure and aside from a few bumps in the road even the more successful drivers may experience during the course of a season, everything seemed to be going Johnson’s way. But then, as the summer stretch got underway, the wheels began to fall off. Over the next 12 races following his win at Dover, Johnson would notch just two top-10 finishes. That was capped by just 16 laps led over the stretch and four DNFs.

"We are getting close to the end of the regular season so ideally, we'd like to get things rolling," Johnson said following a DNF at Pocono at the end of July. "We have won championships a variety of ways. It’s a heck of a lot easier if you have some momentum on your side rolling into August and September."

But there was no "mo" for Johnson. After an eighth-place finish to close out the regular season at Richmond Raceway, Johnson felt he was in position to gain more wins and try to make The Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Once we get back to tracks I know the sensation I’m looking for, and I know how to create speed at these tracks, I can help better steer our group and say, 'OK, this is the area we need to work on,' " Johnson said. "Some of these tracks in the summer months, they aren’t my best tracks. It’s easy to get lost in the process trying to understand where the speed is. A place like Dover is going to be great medicine for us."

Johnson finished eighth to open the playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway and capped the Round of 16 with a third-place finish at Dover - his first top-five finish since winning at "The Monster Mile" in June. A seventh-place effort the following week at Charlotte signaled that Johnson may be returning to form. He averaged a 14th-place finish in the Round of 12, which was good enough to advance him to the Round of 8 - a three-race stretch at Martinsville Speedway, Texas and Phoenix where he's combined for 20 wins.

But the late-season magic he found in 2016 never showed up in 2017. His seventh-place at Charlotte was Johnson’s last top 10 of the season. After running 12th at Martinsville, Johnson struggled at Texas, finishing an uncharacteristic 27th after handling issues, a brush with the wall and mistakes on pit road. Johnson knew after the Texas race that he was in trouble.

"We’ve got to figure something out," he said. "Kansas was a lot like this. It was difficult to drive the car and carry entry speed. And then, we had a loose wheel and contact on a restart. To work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car, and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is disappointing."

Johnson would have one last shot to make The Championship 4 and went to Phoenix for the penultimate race of the season needing to win to advance.

Jimmie JohnsonHis bid for an eighth championship officially ended after a cut tire sent Johnson into the wall and out of the race on Lap 148.

"Unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to make eight this year. But we’ll come back next year and try real hard," Johnson said. “We've been staying alive and that's not going to cut it for the Round of 8 and then the Round of 4.

"We put a lot of effort into the whole season, especially the last couple weeks, and I feel horrible that we didn’t get better results than what we had."

Johnson’s 2017 season can be described at best as inconsistent. His four top fives, 11 top 10s, 217 laps led and 16.8 average finish were all career lows. His 7 DNFs tied for the most in a single season in his career.

Johnson admitted this was one of the most challenging years in his 16 full-time seasons in the Cup Series.

"It’s high on the list. I don’t know if this year versus maybe 2015. That was a tough one on us, as well, with that rules package and trying to get speed out of our cars," said Johnson, who's optimistic that he can return to form in 2018.

"Next year, we’ll be in a much better position with the Camaro body on the racecar," Johnson said. "Hopefully, we make the right decisions over the off-season. There's a lot of change coming for the Chevrolets. The Camaro is going to be a huge help. We’ll take a deep breath and then look forward to getting started."

Motor Racing Network continues our look at the 16 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers in 2017 tomorrow with a recap of the season for ninth-place finisher Ryan Blaney.

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