Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will be his last. Can he compete for a championship in his swan song season?
2020 will mark the end of an era for NASCAR when Jimmie Johnson puts and end to his a full-time Cup Series career. This leads to the question of whether or not he can compete for what would be a record-breaking eighth championship when the playoffs roll around in the fall.
Two drivers in have made it to the Championship 4 in their final season in the last few seasons. Those drivers were Jeff Gordon in 2015 and Carl Edwards in 2016. Both failed to win the championship, but both did leave the sport competing at a high level with a great shot to do so.
Other recently retired drivers who have had success in their final seasons include Tony Stewart in 2016 and Matt Kenseth in 2017. Stewart was able to win at Sonoma Raceway in his final season and qualify for the playoffs while Kenseth was able to make it to the round of 12, only failing to advance to the round of 8 on a technicality.
Along with that, Kenseth was able to score his final victory at Phoenix Raceway in the round of 8, a win that would have gotten him to the Championship 4 if not for his late issue in the pits at Kansas Speedway.
The one recently retired driver who did not have as much success in his final season was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017. Earnhardt was unable to score a victory in his final season, but he did get a nice sendoff at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his throwback paint scheme to his rookie of the year.
For Johnson in 2020, it will require a big improvement over his last two seasons for him to be a championship contender. He is in the midst of a career-worst 95-race win drought (previous worst was only 24 races), so a major improvement is imminent for him to go out on top.
Since his last win at Dover International Speedway in June of 2017, Johnson has scored a total of 29 top 10 finishes, of which only six are top five finishes.
On top of those numbers, he missed the playoffs for the first time in his career last year and finished in a career-low 18th place in the championship standings, just one year after finishing in a career-low 14th in his first winless season.
After 2018, Johnson split with long-time crew chief Chad Knaus. Knaus was replaced by Kevin Meendering, who was Elliott Sadler’s crew chief at JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2016 to 2018. Then before the race at Watkins Glen International, Meendering was replaced by Cliff Daniels. Daniels finished out the season and has brought some hope for the #48 team.
Daniels will be the man on top of the box for Johnson’s final season. It seems like the two ran a lot better towards the end of the season with good speed throughout the playoffs. Daniels will be determined to lead Johnson and the #48 team back to victory lane before the end of Johnson’s career.
Jimmie Johnson is confident that he and his team can go into the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season and be championship contenders. He still has the same expectations of winning races and competing for the title, and it would be hard to bet against the #48 team at least making the playoffs in 2020. It may not be a championship to send Johnson out on top, but getting back to victory lane would be huge for him to prove that he is leaving on his own terms as a winner.