Story By: AMY STOCK / HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS – AVONDALE, AZ – Jimmie Johnson celebrated his final race as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver Sunday night after he placed fifth at Phoenix Raceway.
The seven-time Cup Series champion called the moment “bittersweet” but said he was thrilled to race one final time under his own terms.
“I (was) excited to do this, excited to get on track and have this final event,” Johnson said. “As the year has gone by, (I had) many moments of reflection and just pride.
“It was nice to be competitive out there and run the top five, finish in the top five, but my bucket is full. NASCAR has been so wonderful for me. This journey has been more than I could have ever dreamed of or expected or hoped for.”
Johnson’s finished right behind the four drivers who were competing for a NASCAR Cup Series title, including teammate Chase Elliott. He said it was significant that he ran with the playoff drivers and added he was grateful he could have such a strong finish with his wife and daughters in attendance.
“That was everything,” Johnson said. “They haven’t been to a race since Fontana. So, to have them here and have them a part of this is something I’ve really, really hoped could happen.”
While Johnson didn’t take the checkered flag, he couldn’t be any prouder of Elliott. The 24-year-old driver not only won at the race at Phoenix but earned his first Cup Series championship. Johnson immediately pulled up by Elliott and rode alongside him and the pair celebrated Hendrick Motorsports’ record-extending 13th title.
“Chase Elliott won his first championship. I’m so happy for that guy,” Johnson said. “To watch him grow up and to be around him and to give him some advice from time to time has really been meaningful for me.”
In storybook fashion, Elliott rallied from being sent to the rear of the field at the beginning of the race due to inspection issues. Johnson recalled the exact same thing happened to him at Homestead-Miami Speedway at the end of the 2016 season. He earned his historic seventh championship by winning that race.
“I sent (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and Chase a text and reminded them that I won a championship that way,” Johnson said after he heard Elliott would have to drop to the rear. “Of the championships I’ve won coming from the back, I had less nervous energy in my body when I took the green flag, and it was very easy what I needed to do.
“I shared that with (Elliott), and he smiled and he said, ‘I hope that’s how it goes today.’ And it did.”
Johnson wrapped up a renown career that saw him win seven Cup Series championships, tying him for the most of all time with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. The El Cajon, California, native is the only driver ever to win five championships in a row (2006-2010).
Johnson also has 83 points-paying victories, putting him sixth on the all-time wins list.He has won 12 of NASCAR’s “crown jewel” races, including the 2006 and 2013 DAYTONA 500s, four times at Indianapolis and two Southern 500s at Darlington. Johnson also has four NASCAR All-Star Race victories and has won a record 28 times on 1.5-mile tracks.