When the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season comes to a close, Jimmie Johnson is calling it a career. On Wednesday, Johnson announced in a video posted across social media that he will retire from full-time Cup racing at year’s end after nineteen full seasons.
“I’m so thankful for eighteen incredible years of racing in NASCAR,” Johnson said. “This sport has been good to me. It has allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing the dream, and achieved more than I ever thought possible.
“I’m looking forward to next season, celebrating what will be my last year as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver. I know what this team is capable, and I hope 2020 is one of the best yet.”
Since his first full-time top-level season in 2002, Johnson has become one of the most accomplished drivers in NASCAR history. He holds eighty-three career Cup victories and a record-tying seven championships, including five consecutive. All 651 of his starts to date have been in the #48 of Hendrick Motorsports, who have become one of NASCAR’s premier organisations thanks to those like Johnson.
Set to turn 45 in September 2020, however, he has struggled in recent seasons; he has failed to win a race since 2017 and missed the 2019 playoffs, the first time he did not make the postseason since its introduction in 2004. Before the 2019 season, he parted ways with longtime crew chief Chad Knaus and experienced another crew chief change midseason. He ended 2019 a career-worst eighteenth in the standings. His contract is also set to expire after 2020, though sponsor Ally Financial is set to remain beyond that. Hendrick’s plans for his successor in the #48 have not been outlined.
Despite his unimpressive stretch since mid-2017, Johnson’s impact on the sport knows no bounds. His eighty-three wins are the sixth-most in Cup history, while his seven championships are tied with the great Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. In 2009, after his fourth-straight Cup title, he became the first and only racing driver to be named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
Many of Johnson’s peers have since taken to social media to show their appreciation. In a tweet, Kyle Larson proclaimed him “[t]he greatest driver of my generation. Look forward to 38 more races with you!” Ryan Blaney described the announcement as having “[c]aught me right in the feels. Been a pleasure Champ. Looking forward to it one last time.”
The 2020 Daytona 500, set for 16 February, will be Johnson’s nineteenth start in the event. He has won the 500 twice, in 2006 and 2013.