The End of the Line for Jimmie Johnson / Who Are Your Playoff Picks?

Daytona proved to be the end of the line for 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Instead of transferring to the playoffs for his record-setting quest of 8 championships, he will be on the outside looking in. In his place, William Byron will move forward for Hendrick Motorsports in his quest for his first title – as well as the second win of his young career.

Once again, Jimmie Johnson got caught up in someone else’s mess, a common theme of the past two years it seems like. It doesn’t appear to matter much how he qualifies or runs, bad racing luck has followed him around the circuit like a malevolent specter. But it isn’t all bad news, the team can certainly try to close the season out on a good note by getting Johnson into Victory Lane one last time. The way he has been running, it isn’t out of the question at all. They need to regain a little more consistency and more importantly, avoid trouble not of their own making.

The race at Daytona was pretty uneventful until the closing laps. Joey Logano captured both Stage wins to acquire more points, elevating him ahead of Chase Elliott in the final standings. But that is about all that went well for him at the end of the night.

The first big wreck was caused by Tyler Reddick as he tried to slide up in front of Kyle Busch for the lead. He made the slide cleanly, meaning no contact, but he was slower which caused Kyle to lift and the ensuing accordion effect generated a large mass of spinning, crashing cars. Later, Ryan Newman said Reddick had run out of talent and, echoing other veteran Cup driver complaints about younger drivers, suggested his title in the Xfinity Series didn’t mean much when it came to Cup racing. Reddick took full responsibility for the wreck and said that if someone had done that to him, he’d be ticked off too. In all fairness, blocking is something all the drivers do and not always to the desired effect, including plenty of veteran drivers. This is not solely a rookie issue and it is one Reddick will learn from. But that doesn’t help the 18 car and the rest involved in the wreck.

The second wreck came when Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano started ping ponging off each other and Bubba Wallace who was making his bid for his first win. The ensuing mess collected a host of cars and allowed William Byron to put his car in a place it had no business being in – but it was the move that won him the race. Byron had a fast car and led 24 laps but the move to slip between the bouncing cars got him the most important lap. Hamlin would go on to finish 3rd while Logano ended up 27th.

Being Daytona and wrecks often take out good cars, especially when the leaders wreck, we saw a few drivers on leader board that we don’t usually see. Those were Brendan Gaughan (8), Chris Buescher (9), John H. Nemechek (11) and Brennan Poole (15).

Matt DiBenedetto finished a respectful 12th and moves on to start in his first ever playoff run. This is just one year into his ride with Menards and Wood Brothers Racing. Kudos to them for a great season so far.

The playoff contenders are set and the first three playoff races are Darlington, Richmond and Bristol. All will be night races and it will be no small feat to come out of these first three unscathed. If you are new to NASCAR, “win and you’re in” is the way the playoffs work. After that, the bottom 4 drivers will not transfer to the next round. A few of the drivers are just happy to be here and barring a wreck or mechanical failure, most of the top drivers will probably advance. That leaves Matt DiBenedetto and Cole Custer as the two most likely drivers not to move on. But after that, we have room for two more veterans to not advance. Normally, I would put Austin Dillon in this group but he has been running better than ever. In looking at the rest of the drivers, I would have to put Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer in the mix. Both have been up and down this year and have been involved in wrecks that were just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kurt fared better than the others in the May Darlington double header with DiBenedetto finishing respectfully as well. But that doesn’t mean much when you need Top 10 runs in all three races to move on.

In addition to that, Bristol was not kind to many of the top drivers in May and they have not run at Richmond yet this season. With no practice, they will all have to rely on past notes. That may not bode too well for Kyle Busch who seems to be struggling without practice the most of any veteran. Richmond could be the race that makes or breaks someone’s chances of moving on.

So with all that said, my drivers that won’t advance to the Round of 12 will be:

Matt DiBenedetto

William Byron

Cole Custer

Austin Dillon

My bubble drivers are:

Clint Bowyer

Kurt Busch

Alex Bowman

Kyle Busch

So yeah, with these 8 drivers I have pretty much covered half the field. And all it takes is Jimmie Johnson willing at Bristol to throw everyone into a tizzy.

Who are your picks to not advance?

Drive fast, turn left and keep the shiny side up.

Photo courtesy of NASCARMedia/Chris Graythen | Getty Images

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