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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