Jimmie Johnson: "There’s no way they’re changing rules based on the 48"

Jimmie Johnson has yet to find a championship format that he and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team can’t conquer.

Jimmie Johnson: "There’s no way they’re changing rules based on the 48"
(L-R) Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Detail of the car of Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet takes the win
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Although the rules have changed multiple times over the years — since the Johnson won his first title in 2006 when there were only 10 competitors in the Chase — he has found a way to persevere. 

Last year, with 16 competitors in the Chase field, Johnson and the Lowe’s crew finally busted the ‘playoff system’, which was introduced in 2013 — after he won his sixth title.  After failing to advance out of the second round of the Chase the next year and out of the first round in 2015, Johnson came back in 2016 to transfer into the Championship 4. 

Jimmie-proofing the championship?

His breakthrough win at Homestead-Miami Speedway guaranteed Johnson a record-tying seventh Cup title. But on Monday, NASCAR changed the rules once again. Has the sanctioning body finally found a way to Jimmie-proof the title?

“I’m not bigger than NASCAR,” Johnson said. “There’s no way they’re changing the rule based on the 48. This sport is a lot bigger than one person.” 

Still, after Johnson won his first title in 2006, NASCAR expanded the playoff field to 12 drivers. In 2011, NASCAR introduced the Wild Card system that would lock the top 10 drivers in on points then add two drivers from within the top 20 in the standings that had won races. Johnson qualified for the Chase, but finished sixth in points. 

Against 13 championship contenders in 2013, Johnson won No. 6. The third Chase was the charm for Johnson as his Chad Knaus-led team won races in each of the last three rounds to win the championship. 

With the new format, teams have the opportunity gather play-off points throughout three segments of the race as well as in the Daytona Duels. This structure should play into Johnson’s hands. Traditionally, the No. 48 team has been at methodically breaking down the weekend already. On several occasions, Johnson has bested his competition by topping all three practice sessions, qualifying and the race. Fifteen of his 80-career Cup wins have come from the pole. 

How to approach the new format

He believes the team will adopt a similar strategy under the new rules. 

“I don’t think you have any option with the way the format is laid out,” Johnson said. “We all know how important points are. And in this new format, there are two opportunities to earn points before the traditional moment in time. Qualifying has been tough for us. We might leave points on the table in that first segment because our qualifying isn’t where we want it to be. It’s just not one of my natural strengths. 

"So, it’s going to force people to be more aggressive and more competitive in some situations — not all — but in some situations and I don’t see any down side to that.”

And with NASCAR awarding five bonus points for each win — and 15 points to the ‘winner’ of the regular season (the top point accumulator over the first 26 races) — Johnson is stoked about his chances. In the last five seasons, Johnson has averaged five victories per year.

“It’s all about winning, finishing the best that you can,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Duels or what it is, there’s incentive to go out there and perform. As a competitor, it’s tough to say that that’s going to change.”

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