For the first time in his 17-year career, Jimmie Johnson failed to win a single Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in a season.
Johnson finished 14th in a race Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway that served as a bookend to many important elements of his career. It was his final start with Lowe’s as a sponsor of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and his last start with Chad Knaus serving as crew chief.
Together they have won seven championships and 83 victories in 615 starts.
"It’s tough. When you think of the relationship with Lowe’s, I hate to see that come to an end," Johnson said. "Seventeen, 18 years really when you look at my first three races that I ran for them, everything we accomplished together, their belief in me and the company’s support of me and this team over the years.
"So that is one piece and then the other piece obviously with Chad, you know it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with. But he is my brother, there is just no way around it. So, not an easy situation it sure has not been easy, especially the second half of the year. We knew this was coming prior to the release or the announcement, I should say, but the season is behind us now and I look forward to a good off season and get geared up for 2019."
Johnson called 2018 the toughest of his career.
"I can look back at some other years where I had different challenges of not having a sponsor or maybe not having a ride and dealing with adversity there," Johnson said. "As far as having a fully funded high-qualify ride, that was… ’18 was by far the toughest. 2015 was pretty tough, but this was still tougher than that.
"Especially, to work through the decision to go separate ways with Chad that was probably … early in the year, kind of mid-season when we made that decision and working through that scenario wasn’t easy. Just glad to finish with a respectable result today, but we’ve got a lot of work to do as a company. I’ve got a lot of work to do with my new team, we’ve got a lot of work to do with this new package and we’ve got to come out stronger."
Knaus attempted to engineer one final victory for the combination, with Johnson staying out on old tires in the closing laps of the race with the hopes of catching a caution. He received that caution when Brad Keselowski tagged Daniel Suárez on lap 248.
But they could only leave pit road in 10th and finished 14th.
Knaus will move to the No. 24 team next season to work with second-year Hendrick driver William Byron. Johnson will pair with Kevin Meendering next season with sponsorship from Ally. The No. 24 and 48 teams work closely together so it’s not like Johnson and Knaus won’t see each other around.
But with that said, the end of an era was certainly on Johnson’s mind throughout the day.
"Yeah, especially pre-race," Johnson said. "Getting bolted in the car, kind of our routine through the different steps there, the reality of today setting in. During the race you just kind of get back in the rhythm of things and just raced along, but I made sure we had a cooler of beer just to have one quick beer with the guys and Chad and a big toast to say thank you."
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