DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – When Jimmie Johnson narrowly missed the Lap 53 melee in Turn 3, I instantly thought then that this could be his night in his No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson, is in the midst of his longest winless drought of his storied career and unfortunately for him, that streak extends to 41 long races.
Johnson, led 10 laps in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 and looked well on his way to earning his fourth career points paying victory at the Daytona International Speedway. I mean, when all the big stars were taken out early and often tonight, Johnson was battling with several drivers that have never reached victory lane in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race before.
Look at the teams that earned top seven finishes. Both JTG Daugherty Racing cars, Leavine Family Racing, Germain Racing and GoFas Racing combined for five of the top seven finishing spots.
Johnson, a seven-time champion, had to beat them. Instead, a crucial pit stop penalty derailed those hopes.
When Johnson hit pit road for what he thought was his final time with 40 to go, his gas man still had the fuel can engaged in his car while Johnson was pulling out of his box. Last year, that was legal. This year, it’s not.
That cost Johnson a lap and put him back in the chaos again. Luckily for him, a caution came out shortly after he served his penalty which kept him in the draft. Unluckily, he was in the wrong place in the draft.
In the final two crashes, one on Lap 155, the other on Lap 161, Johnson was involved in both. His night ended with a 23rd place finish. He now has a four race streak of not finishing in the top 10 and leaves Daytona with a night of what could have been.