Jimmie Johnson’s bid for a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship was cut short in the Contender Round of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Although he would win later in the Chase at Texas, he was left to essentially watch as Kevin Harvick emerged as the new champ.
During a Thursday function in Charlotte, North Carolina for his foundation, Johnson indicated that the final outcome was fine with him.
“I feel like Kevin winning was the right thing when you look at the winners and the dominant cars throughout the year,” Johnson said to reporters of Harvick, who won five times in 2014 and completed his run to the title with back-to-back victories at Phoenix and Homestead.
However, it could have all been different had Ryan Newman managed to defeat Harvick at Homestead in the final laps. Leading up to the championship finale, many observers pondered the prospect of Newman perhaps securing the Cup without a single race victory.
As the finale played out, it became clear that Newman would indeed have to beat Harvick to win the race and the title, and thus could not become the “winless champion.” But Johnson feels that had Newman won, it still wouldn’t have sat completely right.
“Ryan had every right in the world to be the champion – the rules were laid out that way – but if the 31 [Newman’s team] wins the championship, I think that would have been tough to swallow for the sport,” Johnson said.
“That’s not taking anything away from [team owner Richard] Childress or Ryan – they had an awesome year and collected a ton of points. [But] there’s some danger for the sport with this format.”
Before Homestead, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said that while the sanctioning body reserved the right to make tweaks, he put the possibility of tinkering with the Chase for 2015 at “very modest to zero.”
However, that did not stop Jeff Gordon from calling for a separate points system for all drivers involved in the post-season stretch. Additionally, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett, a former Cup champion himself, proposed that should a Championship 4 driver be winless, he/she would have to win at Homestead to earn the title.
On Thursday, Johnson said perhaps a more radical change for the sport in general was needed – a format change for race weekends.
“Maybe we qualify on Saturday and that’s televised, and then we run some heat races and a feature on Sunday,” he said. “That fits in a four-hour time window. It sticks to our roots, sticks to what we’ve always had and done, gives some natural pauses for the show for the social element at the track.
“I think there’d be some good momentum with that personally. We’d still get 500 miles between practice, qualifying and all of that. I think that would be a pretty entertaining format.”