Legend. That’s the only word to describe Jimmie Johnson.
He’s tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only three drivers in NASCAR history to win seven series championships, and Johnson’s winning of five in a row from 2006 to 2010 is a feat that we’ll probably never see happen again.
Love him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson has one of the best statistical records in NASCAR history. With 615 Cup Series starts under his belt heading into the 2019 season, Johnson has won 13.5% of his attempts (83 total wins, for those without a calculator handy) and lead nearly 19,000 laps.
But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
NASCAR introduced its Playoff system before the 2014 season, and when you look at the numbers, there’s a direct correlation to the time Jimmie Johnson stopped being so dominant. Yes, you can add age into the equation as well here–Johnson is 43–but let’s just look at the point standing finish of Johnson since this new format was introduced.
|Season||Avg. Finish||Points Standings Finish|
For comparison, Jimmie Johnson never finished worse than 6th in the points standings up until the 2014 season. His first full season in the NASCAR Cup Series was 2002, and from then until 2014, his worst season-ending result was 6th.
Yes, the #48 team won the championship in 2016, but Johnson didn’t have the best car in that race, nor did he have anywhere near the best car that season; in terms of average finish that year, Johnson’s 14.0 mark was 10th-best in the series–and only a smidge better than Chase Elliott’s 14.6, NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year that season (and Johnson’s teammate).
And while we’re on the subject of performance, let’s take a look at Johnson’s most recent seasons compared to how he did (on average) during his first 15 years in NASCAR’s top series.
|Season||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Finish|
|2002 – 2016 Avg.||5.3||14.5||22.0||12.0|
Last season was the first time in his Cup Series career that Jimmie Johnson didn’t find victory lane at least twice over the 36-race season. His single-digit amount of top 5 finishes in both 2017 and 2018 were the only times that has happened since his rookie year in 2002. And 22 top 10 finishes over the last two years combined? Johnson used to average that every single season. Another stat not included in the chart above is number of lead lap finishes: Jimmie had 23 during the 2018 season, his lowest ever.
Yes, Hendrick Motorsports has gone through some big changes over the last year. And, yes, the new Chevrolet engine in 2018 threw a lot of teams a curveball–but that was expected. And even so, Johnson hasn’t performed anywhere near his expected level in quite a long time.
There will be some major changes in 2019 for the #48 team as well, starting with Kevin Meendering taking over as crew chief, breaking up the historic Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus combination for the first time ever.
But if we’re being honest, this seems like a last ditch effort by Hendrick Motorsports to stop the RMS Johnson from sinking. The bad news is, that ship has already hit the iceberg.