Obviously, 2020 has not been the send off that a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion like Jimmie Johnson deserves. COVID-19 has disrupted the NASCAR schedule, the virus even sidelined Johnson for the Brickyard 400, and the majority of the season has been run without fans in attendance denying them a chance to see their hero one last time. Still, through it all, Johnson finds himself within striking distance of the final NASCAR Cup Series Playoff berth spot with three races remaining until the Playoffs begin.
After a fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, Johnson is a point closer to attaining a shot at an eighth championship title than he was a week ago, as he now sits 25 points behind teammate William Byron who is on the bubble. But more importantly, Johnson showcased that perhaps the No. 48 is closer to a potential victory.
The fact that Johnson is now showing life is astonishing after an abysmal eight-race stretch, where he finished 13th-or-worse in seven of them and, as mentioned before, didn’t get to even contest the Brickyard as he tested positive for COVID-19, is a testament to the never-say-die attitude of the legendary driver.
While things had looked bleak at the close of July, the California-native has flipped the script totally. He now has four straight finishes of 12th-or-better and he seems to be peaking at the right time as the series heads to Johnson’s favorite track, Dover International Speedway, for a NASCAR Cup Series double header this weekend.
Johnson has amassed 11 victories at The Monster Mile during his future Hall of Fame career, which is easily the most among active drivers (the next closest on the list has three wins at the 1-mile speedway).
The 44-year old has to be licking his chops, as he will have two chances at victory in back-to-back days at a track where he has always been incredible. But even if he can’t find victory lane — something that has plagued him for the last three seasons — there’s a better than not chance that Johnson escapes Dover in a better points position than he was going in.
Here is the Playoff Bubble Heading into Dover:
14. Clint Bowyer, +66 points
15. Matt DiBenedetto, +44
16. William Byron, +25
17. Jimmie Johnson, -25
18. Erik Jones, -35
19. Tyler Reddick, -57
Of the five other drivers on the bubble list, none have scored a victory at the 1-mile concrete high-banked oval. In fact, no driver — other than Johnson — on this list has recorded more than two top-10s at Dover, either.
Johnson’s career-average finish of 9.9 at Dover blows the group away as well. Jones leads the rest of the group in average finish (11.7), while Bowyer (13.1), Byron (13.5) and DiBenedetto (27.6) have less than enviable results at the track. Reddick, who has performed admirably during his rookie season, will be making his first-career NCS starts at Dover on Saturday and Sunday.
Undoubtedly, this weekend is Johnson’s biggest chance, this is his greatest opportunity to save his 2020 season, and put an end to what has been a miserable three-year stretch at the end of an illustrious career. But above everything else, this is the chance for Johnson to get the story book ending that his incredible career truly deserves.
*Editor’s Note: This story incorrectly listed Alex Bowman as being a bubble driver originally. Bowman has a win and is locked into the Playoffs.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.