Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson announces retirement after 2020 season
Hopes to win more races and one more title in his final season
Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will have one more chance at a record eighth title next season. Whatever the outcome however Johnson will not get another try as next season will be his last.
Johnson announced on social media Wednesday that he will leave NASCAR’s premier series at the end of 2020. The 44-year-old California native will leave with a resume that will no doubt be unmatched for years, if ever, in NASCAR.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver won a record five straight championships from 2006 through 2010; he has accumulated 83 victories, all in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, most among active drivers (Kyle Busch is second with 56); Johnson won his seven titles under a variety of postseason formats, from the 10-race Chase to the 16-driver elimination Playoff.
“I’m so thankful for 18 incredible years of racing in NASCAR,” Johnson said in the Twitter video announcing his retirement. “This sport has been good to me, and it’s allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing a dream, and I achieved more than I ever thought possible.
“I’m looking forward to next season and celebrating what will be my last year as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver. I know what this team’s capable of, and I hope 2020 is one of the best years.”
Johnson will be aiming for a championship that will break a tie with Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. To win that title however, he will have to rally from a career-worst drought that stands at 95 races with last Sunday’s Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. More immediate goals including catching and passing Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, who are tied for fourth on the career victory list with 84.
“Jimmie Johnson is a class act and a true champion on and off the track,” former Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon said. “It’s been a pleasure to compete with him over the years and to call him a friend throughout it all. Congratulations on a phenomenal career. Best of luck ‘chasing 8’ one last time.”
Johnson currently is tied with his childhood hero, Cale Yarborough, for sixth all-time.
With his last victory having come at Dover in June 2017, Johnson hasn’t adapted as well as he would have liked to Chevrolet’s Camaro ZL1—or to the lower-horsepower, higher-downforce competition package NASCAR introduced for the 2019 season.
In 2020, however, Chevrolet is racing the Camaro ZLI 1LE, which already has been tested an approved by NASCAR. Perhaps the new model will help provide the momentum Johnson needs to chase an eighth championship, one more time.
Following the announcement, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France issued the following statement, “NASCAR history will always hold Jimmie Johnson in the highest regard, for his hard-charging success on the racetrack and the way he conducted himself as a champion off the track. This remarkable seven-time champion – through his competitive spirit, immense talent and sportsmanship – has made NASCAR a better sport. On behalf of my family and the entire NASCAR community, I thank Jimmie for his dedication to NASCAR and, along with his legions of fans, wish him all the best in his final season. I look forward to watching him race for wins and an eighth NASCAR Cup Championship in 2020.”
Other reactions soon followed:
“I am glad to hear this news because, as someone who raced with Jimmie every season, it has been tough to witness his frustration the past couple of years,” Jamie McMurray former driver now TV analyst said. “I know this was a hard decision for him, but I am thrilled he will have the opportunity to take it all in next year. The decision is the hardest part of all of this. I look at all the stuff he now will be able to do – playing with his kids and throwing himself more into running and cycling – and I couldn’t be happier for him. The man deserves it.”
“This has the potential to be the greatest-ever last at-bat, walk-off homerun we’ve ever witnessed by a NASCAR driver,” Ricky Craven former driver now TV analyst said. “We have one final year to celebrate, acknowledge and appreciate the remarkable career of one of NASCAR’s all-time greats and be equally dominated by the idea of witnessing Jimmie capturing an unprecedented eighth title. This news will headline the 2020 season.”
“Jimmie Johnson is not just one of NASCAR’s greatest champions and a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Mike Joy, FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer said. “He’s been a great family man and role model to countless young drivers aspiring to follow in his footsteps. Jimmie has consistently been most gracious with his time and most thoughtful in our discussions. I’m not looking forward to the day he hangs up his helmet, and I wish him great success in his final fulltime season.”