CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson was stunned by the proposed changes to the championship format that NASCAR chairman Brian France laid out in a phone call two weeks ago.
The six-time champion did not believe he was being picked on by NASCAR executives grasping for any way possible to end his dominance of the Sprint Cup Series.
Instead, Johnson was taken aback because he had not heard the proposal before in multiple discussions with NASCAR.
"It just caught me off guard and shocked me, and I told Brian when he called me, 'Just give me a minute to adjust, because I'm on my heels,'" Johnson said Tuesday.
NASCAR will officially announce its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format on Thursday. All signs point to a 16-driver field whittled down through eliminations to four drivers and a winner-take-all season finale.
It's the fourth significant change to either the points or championship format since the Chase debuted in 2004. Johnson has won six titles, five consecutive from 2006 through 2010 and then last season, in that span.
Johnson's not opposed to change. But based on conversations with NASCAR, he expected something closer to heat races over a four-hour television window leading into a condensed feature event.
"That's the discussion that's been going on for a few years, so I was shocked because I hadn't heard a word about this idea or concept," Johnson said. "I don't think NASCAR is picking on me or trying to keep me from winning the championship. In conversations I've had with Brian and other NASCAR executives ... they like history, they like those big monumental moments. I by no means think this is an attack on the 48.