If you've watched NASCAR over the last five years, you've undoubtedly learned to never, ever, count Jimmie Johnson and his team out. Ever.
And even when the No. 48 bunch was officially eliminated from Chase contention before Sunday's Ford 400, that creeping feeling that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were lurking to hoist the Sprint Cup trophy for the sixth year in a row still existed.
But those impossible thoughts were put to bed for good Sunday as Johnson first hit pit road for an engine issue before the red flag for rain.
"I worked my way up there pretty good and was having some fun. (It's a) sad way to end the season but it is racing, we will come back next year," Johnson said on pit road during the rain delay after the engine problem eventually led to the team changing the carburetor.
Then, after the car had that new part, Johnson got loose in turns three and four and got tagged by David Gilliland. It was almost piling on at that point.
Sunday was a microcosm of Johnson's 2011 Chase for the Championship. The shroud of invincibility that had seemingly cloaked the 48 team for the past five seasons had vanished.
It appeared briefly at Kansas after he won, but disappeared at Charlotte, when he went head-on into the wall into a violent collision. It never came back. The good fortune that Johnson seemingly had accumulated at every point during the last five years finally led to overdraft fees.
The run is now over, book-ended by Tony Stewart championships. And in perhaps an even more stunning development, his sixth-place finish in the points standings is the lowest points finish in Johnson's career. Yes, his career. As we remember the greatness that we all witnessed Sunday at Homestead between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, Johnson's accomplishments over the past five seasons might have made it even more special. And you know what? He's still one of the favorites to lift the Cup next year.
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