With his final NASCAR Cup Series season about to get underway, will Jimmie Johnson win another race? Where might a win come?
But coming off a second straight winless season, one in which he missed the playoffs for the first time and finished in a career-low 18th place in the championship standings, there’s another important debate.
Back in 2016, when Johnson won his seventh title, it would have been hard to imagine we’d be asking this question in 2020: will Johnson win another Cup Series race?
With this being his final full season, he will have 36 chances to do just that. But what do the numbers say?
Recently retired champions have been able to pull it off.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon won in his final full-time season in 2015, three-time champion Tony Stewart won in 2016 and 2003 champion Matt Kenseth visited victory lane in 2017.
For both Gordon and Kenseth, they won multiple races the previous year, so another victory was not surprising.
For Stewart, following multiple years with personal distractions and missed races, he pulled off the improbable final win in a close finish with Denny Hamlin at Sonoma Raceway. His previous win came more than three years earlier.
Johnson hasn’t won a race since June 2017, giving him an active 95-race win drought; his previous high was 24.
Stewart went 84 races between his final wins (not counting events that he missed), but other champions have gone longer.
Rusty Wallace went 105 races between his final wins, while Terry Labonte went 156 races. Overall, the longest winless streak snapped belongs to Bill Elliott, with 226 races between victories in 1994 and 2001.
The hope for Johnson is that he can continue these trends as a champion who can win in his final season and snap a long winless streak in the process.
Hendrick Motorsports as a whole have been down in recent years. They were dominant early last decade, with 10 wins among four drivers in 2012, nine wins among three drivers in both 2013 and 2015 and 13 wins among four drivers in 2014.
Flip the page to the last four seasons. Johnson grabbed all five of the team’s victories in 2016 and was one of two drivers to combine for four wins in 2017 with three. But Chase Elliott was responsible for all of the team’s three wins in 2018, while Elliott and Alex Bowman combined for four victories last season.
Simply put, Hendrick Motorsports do better when all drivers do well, something they haven’t been able to do of late.
It’s not all about Johnson being long in the tooth, as improved performance for Hendrick Motorsports can give him a chance to prove that he’s still capable of success.
With all of that being said, I do believe Johnson will win another race before he hangs up his helmet.
Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet as a whole are overdue for improved performance, and champions in their final season have done well in recent years. If we take a look back at the last two seasons for Johnson, we can get an insight into where he might grab that victory.
He has run well at both Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval configuration. On the oval, he recorded one top five finish, two top 10 finishes and an average finish of 6.50 in the last two races. On the roval, he recorded two top 10 finishes and an average finish of 8.50 in two races, including a near-win in 2018.
Johnson’s best average finishes in the last two seasons came at these two tracks, so keep an eye out for the #48 Chevrolet in the races there this year.
Another two tracks to watch are Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway. Johnson recorded one top five finish, three top 10 finishes and an average finish of 10.25 in the last four races at Bristol. He recorded three top 10 finishes and an average finish of 9.00 in the last four races at Richmond.
Gordon and Kenseth both had their final wins come late in the season, so I’d go a step further to say that Johnson’s final win may come at Bristol or Richmond in September or at the Charlotte roval in October.
And who knows; maybe Johnson will cap of his career with multiple victories.
While a chance at a record eighth NASCAR Cup Series title may be a stretch, Jimmie Johnson is still a threat to win at least one more time as he concludes his full-time driving career.