For Jimmie Johnson, what happened in Vegas has followed him to Daytona

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- An end-of-the-year banquet, like the one NASCAR holds annually in Las Vegas, is a time for celebration, for reflecting on the accomplishments of the past year and immortalizing them.

Tell that to Jimmie Johnson.

The longtime driver and one of NASCAR's last active legends was, well, less than pleased watching all those season-in-review videos in 2017 -- the ones chock full of his peers' achievements.

"To relive the highlight reels, all of that, it's like, 'Damn, I want to be that guy,' " Johnson said Wednesday. "I want to get back and be that guy."

Johnson's frustration is explainable given that in a lot of seasons, he is that guy. A seven-time Cup Series champion, Johnson is the last of a rapidly depleting vein of NASCAR legends. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- they're all gone, and now the 42-year-old Johnson is the last one left from a golden generation of racing.

But he's not content with just being a ceremonial body in a car. The man still wants to win, so it makes sense that he was frustrated in 2017. Johnson has spoken at length since last season ended about how it was one of his most trying seasons in the Cup Series. He won his fewest races (3) since 2011 and the second-fewest of any of his 16 full-time seasons.

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And contrasting last season to 2016, when he came from behind to capture his record-tying seventh title?

"The '16 offseason (was spent) savoring the moment, being the champion, enjoying all that," Johnson said. "When you don't win, you can't wait to get back to work, improve, figure out what went wrong."

That is where Johnson finds himself now. And for his No. 48 team, there's still a fair bit of improving to do. In both the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday and Can-Am Duels on Thursday, Johnson crashed. That means he'll be forced to start from the back of the field and use a backup car in the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Johnson has made a career of surging from the back of the field, but it can't be the start he had in mind in his quest for an eighth championship.


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