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Clash Success Could Help Johnson Launch #OneFinalTime Season with Authority

NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won a points-paying race since June 4, 2017 at Dover International Speedway, coming off the high of his record-tying seventh Cup Series championship in 2016.

Emphasis on the words “points-paying race.” The nearly three-year winless drought won’t keep Johnson from defending a trophy Sunday, Feb. 9 in The Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway (3 p.m. ET, FS1).

The Cup Series will hit the 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona oval this weekend for the annual exhibition race that kicks off the NASCAR season. The race pulls together pole winners from the previous Cup Series season, as well as former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 race and pole winners and drivers who qualified for the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

In all, 18 drivers will battle for bragging rights to say they won the first Cup Series race of the season. Last year, Johnson came away from a Turn 3 wreck unscathed to claim his first winner’s trophy since 2017.

Late last year, the driver tied for sixth on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time victory list with 83 wins announced he will retire from full-time competition after 2020.

“I know for a fact it’s my last full-time year in NASCAR,” he said. “I still have a desire to compete, and I look forward to what 2021 and beyond brings. I would not rule out coming back, if the right opportunity exists, to the Cup Series. This isn’t a hard out. I’m not done racing. I am done with 38 weekends a year. I still want to race and compete, and I look forward to doing that down the road.”

Johnson, 44, said this year, which he is billing as #OneFinalTime on social media, won’t make him prepare or race any different. He said when he pulls his belts tight and fires up his engine in Daytona, he is “going to give it 100 percent, as I always do. I’ll lay it on the line and go.”

During Johnson’s two winless seasons in 2018 and 2019, he scored five top-five finishes and 23 top-10’s. His best finish in a points-paying race in that span? A third-place finish last July at Daytona.

Everybody wants to go out at the top of their game, and Johnson is no different. Jeff Gordon did it in 2015 with a win and an appearance in the championship final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Tony Stewart ended his Cup Series career in 2016 with one final win at Sonoma Raceway.

Johnson said that when his full-time career ends, he will be proud and satisfied of his accomplishments. But the competitor in him still wants more.

“I think deep down inside it would be very satisfying (to win again),” Johnson said. “In my heart of hearts, I still know I’m doing my best work out there.”

Johnson said two additional factors are motivating him to visit Victory Lane this year. Their names are Evie and Lydia Johnson – his daughters.

“I can also say from a family perspective, to have another moment or two this year with my family in that environment and winning at the top level would be very special for us,” he said. “I guess, ultimately, my kids don’t remember going to Victory Lane. They don’t have any vivid memories of it. To have that moment with them and a moment they will hopefully remember would be really special.”

One of Johnson’s fondest memories with his kids happened in 2012 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson earned his fourth Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line victory, and after the race he was taking part in the celebratory kissing of the Yard of Bricks.

Evie, who was just over 2 years old at the time, refused to kiss the bricks in front of the cameras. As the post-race celebration for Johnson’s then record-tying fourth Brickyard win continued, Evie decided she wanted redemption.

“She kept saying ‘bricks,’ so we went back out to the frontstretch, and she just wanted to be by herself,” he said. “There wasn’t anyone in sight, there wasn’t anyone around, and she knelt down and kissed the bricks on her own. Every time I think of the Brickyard, I think of that moment.”

This Fourth of July weekend, Johnson will attempt to tie Gordon, IMS’ all-time winningest driver on the 2.5-mile oval, for what could be one final time. Johnson, who grew up idolizing Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge greats, said ending his full-time career at the top of Indy history would be a dream come true.

“To be in running as one of the most winningest drivers at that track and have the opportunity to tie my friend, mentor and hero Jeff Gordon is a really cool opportunity,” he said. “The wins that I’ve had at the track, I just can’t explain or express how difficult it is to win there and how challenging the track is. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction to win at that track, and I hope to experience it again.”

Before NASCAR hits the Racing Capital of the World in July, the field will take the green flag for the Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 16, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX). Johnson’s #OneFinalTime will take the green flag, too, and Daytona momentum from two top-10 finishes and a win could be the boost Johnson needs to go out on top.

Tickets are on-sale now for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line event weekend, which includes a revamped July Fourth weekend schedule, the Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink, FGL Fest and the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

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