CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson went for the win Sunday afternoon, not knowing the consequences.
Johnson wrecked in the final chicane while battling Martin Truex Jr. for the win on the new Charlotte Motor Speedway road course. He finished eighth in the Bank of America 400, one spot short of advancing to the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
“It’s a bummer,” the seven-time Cup champion Johnson said. “It’s not what we want by any stretch. … If I knew the outcome was going to be that, no [I wouldn’t have tried the move]. I want to stay alive in the championship points. But I really felt like I could pull that pass off.
“I’m shell-shocked for sure. I wish I could go back in time and let off the brakes a little bit and take that opportunity, because the championship is what we’re here for.”
Johnson finished in a three-way tie for 11th in points; only 12 advanced to the next round. He lost the tiebreaker — best finish in the round — to Kyle Larson (second at Las Vegas) and Aric Almirola (fifth at Richmond). Johnson’s best finish in the round was eighth at Richmond and Charlotte. Also failing to advance were Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin.
“I thought we had a big enough cushion on points — I thought we were still fine,” Johnson said. “I thought it was going to be OK. I was just going for the win, clearly.
“That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I’m supposed to do. If I didn’t feel like I was better [than] him in the area, I wouldn’t have taken the chance. I felt like I had a shot of executing that pass.”
Johnson didn’t realize he was that close to the cutoff, and the prospect of a victory during a winless season was too much for him not to try as he trailed Truex on the final lap. The Hendrick Motorsports driver even stopped on the apron before the start-finish line in case NASCAR thought he had short-cut that chicane. That was a good choice as NASCAR said afterward he would have been issued a 30-second penalty for short-cutting the chicane if he didn’t stop.
“Trying to get that win is so important,” Johnson said. “My strongest areas of the track were the back straightaway chicane and here on the frontstretch where I tried to make that pass.
“I had passed the whole field there time after time after time, so I was hopeful I could get that done. I didn’t go into the corner thinking I was going to take Martin out. I really felt I could get in there and race him for it. Unfortunately, I made a mistake.”
Johnson felt the move was there for the taking.
“I thought I was making a good, clean racing move to give myself a chance to win,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, I made a mistake and lost it.
“I feel terrible it took me out, took Martin out and took us out of the championship. … When he got loose through [the oval Turns] 3 and 4 and got off the bottom and left that inside lane open, that’s the preferred line. I felt like I had a real shot of making it work.”
Johnson still would have been good if Larson, who blew a tire with two turns left, didn’t get by a stalled Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was creeping toward the finish line and was the last driver on the lead lap.
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said there was no concern that Earnhardt stalled on purpose to allow Larson to get by him for that point.
“He was like 100 feet from the start finish line,” Larson said. “I could start to see him creep in when I was getting to 16. I was like, ‘Gosh, don’t go, don’t go,’ and we were able to make it.
“Hey, I was pretty lucky.”
The driver not so lucky besides Johnson was Truex, who lost the chance to earn five additional playoff points to carry over into future rounds.
“Last corner desperation behind us, that’s what you get,” Truex said. “I gave [Johnson] the inside lane and he had the run through [Turn] 4 and I was real tight down there. I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of 4 there to the chicane.
“He just overdrove it and was never going to make it and used me as brakes and turned us both around. It sucks. We could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”