Jimmie Johnson did not go quietly into the NASCAR off-season.
On Wednesday, the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion tweeted that 2020 will be his final year behind the wheel of the No. 48 Chevrolet.
An announcement is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’m so thankful for 18 incredible years of racing in NASCAR,” Johnson said via Twitter. “This sport has been good to me, and it’s allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing a dream, and I 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. I know what this team’s capable of, and I hope 2020 is one of the best years.”
Over nearly two decades, Johnson, 44, has won 83 races, 36 poles and posted 227 top fives and 364 top 10s in 651 races. Under the direction of crew chief Chad Knaus, the El Cajon, Calif. native won an unparalleled five-consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010. He joined Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt to become just the third driver to win a seventh title in 2016. Since NASCAR introduced the Chase/Playoff system in 2004, Johnson has won championships under every format.
After Johnson’s first winless season in 2018, team owner Rick Hendrick along with Johnson and Knaus decided it was time for a change. Johnson started this year with a new aero package and a new crew chief in Kevin Meendering. After 21 races, Cliff Daniels was named crew chief of the No. 48 Ally team. Unfortunately, the revamping occurred too late in the season for Johnson to recover. For the first time in 15 years, Johnson did not advance to the post-season.
Certainly, Johnson has been vocal about the current car package not suiting his driving style. And while change might be good on the race track for some, Johnson has not adapted well.
“It’s just a different game,” Johnson said. “Those stage races go by so quick. You treat it like a qualifying session—tongue out, digging—doing everything you can, every lap. Don’t cut anyone any breaks. It’s just an aggressive environment. There’s no penalty for being aggressive. You don’t break the car. You don’t wear out the tire. There’s no downside there. You can run wide open, so that’s a different mindset in general.
“Which may sound good on paper. Which may put on a better race. But we need comers and goers, and I think we’ve all realized that at time has gone on. The environment changes, and I don’t ever see it going back. It’s just evolving in a way, the way the Playoff points matter, the way the stages work. I don’t see it changing.”
Since Johnson arrived on the stock car scene as a Chevrolet development driver in 1998, he has always been one of the most gracious racers on the circuit. Despite his tremendous success on the track, his philanthropic activities and simply the way he conducts himself in a manner befitting a champion, Johnson hasn’t been held in the same esteem as Petty or Earnhardt or even his peers Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart.
Over the last several seasons and as his losing streak hit 95 races at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Johnson has noticed that level of respect isn’t being reciprocated on the race track, either.
“Mark Martin would lose his damn mind out there right now with this kind of racing,” Johnson said at Texas Motor Speedway. “It would drive him crazy. It drives me crazy. But it is what it is.
“Every year it will ramp up. What I experience in the car, week in and week out, the environment and how we treat each other and the way we race each other—we’re doing things regularly now that there’s no way I would have done that to Dale Jarrett or Rusty Wallace. There’s just no way. That’s just common racing today. And when you talk to (younger drivers) about it, they’re surprised that your upset. It’s just culturally different.
“I guess it’s just a mark of getting old. We remember our parents talking or our grandparents talking about things and I’m finding myself in that position right now as the elder statesman with these young guys.”
As Johnson’s final quest for “Chasing 8” continues in 2020, hopefully, many of his fellow competitors and the fans will finally give him the respect he deserves.