AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson’s bid for a record eighth NASCAR championship is over.
Needing a win at Phoenix to make the final four in next weekend’s championship finale, Johnson saw his hopes crumple with a blown tire that sent his No. 48 Chevrolet into the wall with one lap remaining in the second stage Sunday.
The crash eliminated the reigning and seven-time NASCAR champion from title contention.
“I’m disappointed for sure,” Johnson said. “The last couple of months we’ve been staying alive and at this stage with the Round of 8 and then the Round of 4, you can’t just stay alive. You’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders and we just haven’t been there, unfortunately.”
It’s been a rough ride for Johnson since matching Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with his seventh title a year ago.
Johnson won three races this year, but those came during the first third of the season. He hasn’t won since Dover in June and has one top-five finish the last 21 races.
Johnson came to Phoenix last among the eight title contenders, 51 points out of mathematically qualifying. Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick already locked into next weekend’s championship finale next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leaving Johnson among five drivers fighting for one spot.
A four-time winner at Phoenix, Johnson started 12th and earned a point by finishing eighth in the first stage. He was running 11th when his right front tired blew right before the caution at the end of the race’s second stage.
Johnson drove the car straight to the garage, his day and championship hopes over.
“I didn’t know it was coming,” Johnson said. “Clearly just got the brakes too hot and popped that tire with like a lap to go or two laps to go before the stage was up. We weren’t leading, we were having a decent day, but we were going to need a great day today. I wish we were still out on track to still have a shot for it.”
Now Johnson is left with trying to win at Homestead next week and spend the offseason trying to figure out what went wrong during his title defense.
More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/