A quartet of drivers were taken out of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs after Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones were all knocked out of the championship picture and will not advance to Round 2.
Johnson’s elimination was the most dramatic. The seven-time champion was battling Martin Truex Jr. for the win when the two made contact. The subsequent crash not only took the opportunity to win away for both drivers but Johnson’s eventual eighth-place finish meant he would not advance in the playoffs.
Despite having the same points as Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola, based on the tie breaker of better finishes in the round Johnson was eliminated.
“I knew where I was on the math,” Johnson said of his playoff position awareness. “I didn’t think that I was going to crash or spin trying to overtake him like I did. I thought I was making a calculated move and giving myself the chance to win and unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way.
“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.”
Fellow Chevrolet driver Austin Dillon, who made the playoffs with his season-opening Daytona 500 win, came to Charlotte in relatively good shape. But he has a number of incidents in Sunday’s race finally ending his day with damage and a 39th-place finish.
“I should have just been more patient and waited for more attrition to go out,” Dillon said. “But I actually felt pretty comfortable and running good. It’s just hard to hold back in a treacherous race; and I guess I didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Jones also weren’t able to do what they needed to do to advance. Both drivers started in backup cars thanks to damage in Saturday’s practice sessions. And each experience trouble in Sunday’s race that led to damage and poor finishes with Hamlin 12th and Jones ending up 30th.
“It was a good year, but we just didn’t have a good first round,” Jones said. “We didn’t finish in the top-10 in any races and that’s not going to get you to the next round. Some circumstances we couldn’t help, but we just need to get it better.”