Jimmie Johnson likes new Chase format, but misses the one that brought him six championships

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If NASCAR ever decides to go back to the old non-elimination format that we saw in the Chase for the Sprint Cup from 2004 through 2013, Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t mind.

“I would be foolish to like any other format than the one in which I’ve won six championships in,” Johnson said during this past week’s NASCAR Media Tour. “I’ll be honest. Call a spade a spade.”

But Johnson still supports NASCAR’s decision to shake up the Chase format with the introduction of the three eliminator rounds and a final four championship round.

“When I sat down and talked with NASCAR and looked at the viewership and attendance spikes, all the excitement that was going on about our sport, especially towards the end of the year with the playoff system we had, it was all showing a very positive side.

“I want what’s best for the sport. It’s easy to sit here and pick things that work best for yourself. But at the end of the day, I love this sport, want it to be around for a long time and just want what’s best for the sport.”

Johnson and the No. 48 team didn’t advance as far as they would have liked in the new Chase format — they failed to get past the second elimination round — due in part to preparation, something that was the team’s hallmark in all six of its championship seasons (2006-2010 and 2013).

“I don’t think we did our job as a team last year and I think that’s where we got beat,” Johnson said. “(It was) not by equipment: the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) won with the same equipment. It’s what we did as a team.

“… We didn’t have the best year, period, so I don’t think the system changed in the way the champion was crowned would affect the year of the 48.”

Sure, Johnson won four races and had 11 top-five and 20 top-10s in 2014. But in the end, he finished a career-worst 11th place in the final season standings.

“When I look at this format on paper, especially how the 10 races break down, we usually win a race in the year (Chase), we usually win at certain tracks and those tracks all give me an opportunity to transfer through the rounds when I look at my strongest tracks,” Johnson said. “So the first blush when I was told about this in the fall of ’13 going into the ’14 season was I thought, ‘Man, this is going to fit the 48 great.’”

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

With so much attention given to teammate Jeff Gordon’s retirement announcement and Chase Elliott as his replacement, the move of Carl Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing and many other storylines, Johnson was practically a forgotten man during the media tour.

For those who may have forgotten, Johnson still has won six championships and 70 races in his Sprint Cup career. He entered 2014 hoping to tie the record for most championships won by a driver in a career, shared by NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

As it turned out, Johnson came up short.

“Honestly, it’s because of the format,” Johnson said. “You can dominate the regular season. You can win the first round of (the Chase) what’s the first goofy name of the whole thing? Challenger Round? What’s the second goofy name? Contender Round? And not be one of the final four at the whatever round. I’m just trying to manage my frustration throughout the course of the year.”

Even though Johnson and none of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates advanced to the championship round last season, Johnson is a good company man. As long as the new format boosted the sport, its popularity, attendance and TV ratings, Johnson is all good with that.

And he’s still intent on winning championship No. 7 in 2015.

“I’m putting on the what’s-best-for-the-sport hat,” he said. “And if this is better for the sport, I’m in. I want our sport to succeed. But again, I won six championships with a different format, so I’d much rather see it go back to that, but I’m for this. I’m not a selfish person.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.