Driver Jimmie Johnson’s pursuit of the perfect ending instead became of a passing of the torch to a young teammate.
William Byron’s inaugural NASCAR Cup Series win during Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 signaled both the beginning of big things to come for the 22-year-old and the end of an era for the 44-year-old Johnson.
The two Hendrick Motorsports drivers entered the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway needing a high finish to qualify for the 10-race playoff. Much of the night, Johnson stayed a step ahead of Byron and former crew chief Chad Knaus.
But the inevitable chaos, confusion and race-defining crashes at the 2.5-mile oval collected Johnson in the maw with three laps to go and battered his iconic No. 48 Chevrolet to the point it was non-competitive even after limping back onto the track.