CONCORD, N.C. – The old adage “there are two sides to every story” was proven true in full force at the end of Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, with Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. on opposite sides of the last-turn collision that took them both out of contention for the victory.
Johnson got a run on Truex coming into the final chicane but overdrove the corner, locking up his brakes and spinning through turn 16 before clipping the right-rear fender of Truex’s Toyota and sending the defending Monster Energy Cup Series champion around as well.
Though he was able to keep moving, Johnson shortcut the final corner and had to serve a stop-and-go penalty on the frontstretch before crossing the finish line in eighth. It was a solid finish, but unfortunately for Johnson, left him on the wrong end of a three-way tie to advance in the playoffs.
Johnson’s best finish in the opening round – which happened to be Sunday’s race on the ROVAL – wasn’t quite enough to supplant Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola. All three had 2,097 points at the checkered flag, but Larson came home second at Las Vegas and Almirola was fifth a week earlier at Richmond.
That meant that the seven-time champion landed 13th on the playoff leaderboard, below the cut line and eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs for the second time in the last four years.
Despite the heartbreak of being in to the next round, and then on the outside looking in over a matter of a few seconds, Johnson was adamant that his focus was on ending the career-long 51-race drought that has dogged him over the summer and fall months.
“I had been so good into that final braking zone that I really felt like I could put some pressure on (Truex) and take a shot at it,” Johnson said. “I got out of the chicane on the back straightaway better than he did and put some pressure on him. Got him loose and off the bottom (on the oval), and I thought that was my chance.
“Unfortunately, down here through the bumps coming into that last braking zone, I just locked up the rears and couldn’t control my car and spun,” he continued. “I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly I did and spun him around. I took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected Truex’s day, which I feel bad about.”
Truex wasn’t buying Johnson’s apology, however. He was visibly frustrated at being taken out of a shot to race cleanly for the win at the end.
“When you have last corner desperation behind you, that’s what you get,” lamented Truex, who finished 14th. “I gave him (Johnson) the inside lane and he had the run through (turn) four and I was real tight down there. I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of four there to the chicane. He just over-drove it, was never going to make it and used me as brakes and turned us both around.
“It sucks, we could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets for making the move he did.”
In a career that boasts 83 wins and seven Cup Series championships, Johnson could have easily ceded to his veteran experience and played the last lap safe, holding onto second and moving on in the title hunt.
Johnson wasn’t content to do that on Sunday, however. He had blinders on and one goal in mind.
“I was just going for the win,” he stated. “Wins are so important. Yes, the veteran could have taken a safe route … but I didn’t and unfortunately took us out of the playoffs and took out the No. 78.
“It was just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for points and it bit me.”