2019 will be the first NASCAR playoffs year without Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson entered the season as the only driver to qualify for every NASCAR playoff format since NASCAR introduced the 10-race playoffs in 2004. And the streak is over now that Johnson crashed out of Sunday’s race at the beginning of the third stage.
Johnson entered Sunday’s race 18 points out of the playoffs. And he needed to pass two drivers ahead of him to get into the 16-driver playoff field. So it wasn’t much of a shock that he ended the day on the outside. And should it really be that big of a deal that Johnson missed the playoffs?
It’s a big deal to Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports team. Teams that make the playoffs get a bigger share of NASCAR’s points money. Hendrick Motorsports is taking a financial hit.
But it’s also not much of a shock that Johnson has missed the playoffs. And, quite frankly, it’s really not a big deal.
Had Johnson snuck into the playoffs he wouldn’t have been a title contender. His eight top-10 finishes this season are fewer than every playoff driver sans teammate Alex Bowman. And his three top-five finishes are fewer than all but two drivers in the 16-driver playoff field.
If Johnson qualified for the playoffs he would have been eliminated in the first round. Or maybe the second. Definitely not the third or the fourth.
Failing to qualify for the playoffs doesn’t diminish Johnson’s status as the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. After all, Richard Petty drove eight winless seasons after his final race win. But it does kind of stink to watch a legend go from his peak to the final chapter in real time. Maybe Johnson can get back to the playoffs in 2020. Maybe he won’t.
Brad Keselowski’s crazy crash
After climbing out of a car that wasn’t on all four wheels Brad Keselowski wondered if Indianapolis Motor Speedway needed to do some safety enhancements.
Keselowski crashed with Erik Jones in the second stage of Sunday’s race and his car ended up lodged in a tire barrier off turn 2.
“I was trying to leave room and probably came down on Erik more than I thought I did and he got real loose,” Keselowski said. “No air on my car. I hit the wall there. There is this spot on the wall with just an atrocious angle. I don't know what that spot is for but it does not need to be there, but we found it. That is how racing goes. We find the things. This track really was part of the safety revolution about 15-20 years ago and I think it is time for another.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway helped lead the widespread installation of SAFER barriers. And it’s fair to think that Indy should re-examine the angle of the wall where Keselowski hit. Why is it the way it is. Could it be better?
Bubba Wallace finishes third
It’s been an awful season for Richard Petty Motorsports and the No. 43 car. Sunday was not awful.
“Heck of a day,” Wallace said. “I don’t know to say. We had speed all weekend in our Victory Junction Chevrolet. We never gave up all day no matter what happened on pit road. I still don’t know what happened. We went from the lowest of lows, to the almost highest of highs. It was just a solid day for our team. Smaller organizations having big runs. It is very uncommon these days. Almost like David and Goliath. Everything kind of clicked today for us. These little teams aren’t supposed to run with the big teams. It was a good day.”
Wallace is still 27th in the points standings after Sunday’s race and has been a backmarker for most of the season. But the run at Indy is a huge boost to a team that’s struggled all season. Is it a sign of things to come? Who knows. It’s just the second top-five finish of Wallace’s career.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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