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Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR playoff ouster not all his fault

He’s too classy to make excuses about not qualifying for the NASCAR playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But if statistics don’t lie, then the Chevy Jimmie Johnson drives on weekends was at least partly to blame.

When the green flag falls at Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 16 drivers will be trying to get their postseasons off to flying starts.

The first three in points — Kyle Busch of Las Vegas, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. — drive Toyotas.

The next three — defending series champion and LVMS spring race winner Joey Logano, 2018 South Point 400 champion Brad Keselowski and last Sunday’s race winner Kevin Harvick — are in Fords.

Bringing up the rear of the top 10 qualifiers are Chevy drivers Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman.

Toyota drivers have won 13 of the 26 regular-season races. Ford drivers have won eight and Chevy drivers five. Justin Haley won the second race at Daytona in a Chevy but as a part-time Cup Series driver, is not playoff eligible.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who went into the regular-season finale at Indianapolis on the playoff bubble but was knocked out of the postseason by a late-race crash. “Unfortunately, we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we’re in.”

Goes in cycles

Still Johnson, 43, has largely remained positive, outside of a quote in a Forbes magazine story titled “How Did Mighty Chevrolet Become NASCAR’s Slowpoke?”

“I don’t feel rejuvenated in my desire to compete,” the former off-road racer from California said after Chevrolet, which has won 24 of the last 36 NASCAR Cup Series titles, also underperformed in 2018.

Second-generation driver Elliott also kept a stiff upper lip when asked about Chevy’s struggles before the recent Southern 500.

“Some weeks I think we’re close, other weeks I think we have work to do,” said the son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott, whose two 2019 wins have come at Talladega and on the road course at Watkins Glen — tracks that are not good indicators of a car’s overall strength and performance.

“This sport definitely goes in cycles. You have to ride the wave when you’re on the up and ride it when you’re on the down, too.”

But the playoff opener just won’t feel the same with the championship hopes of Johnson, a four-time LVMS winner, already having been wiped out.

As NBC pit road reporter and Las Vegas resident Kelli Stavast rhetorically asked after Sunday’s developments: “What is the postseason like without Jimmie Johnson? Well, nobody knows because it has never happened.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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