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Oct 24, 3:39 PM EDT

NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson knew it wasn't his year

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Six-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was eliminated from NASCAR's playoffs last week, but he came to grips with his fate far before he was actually knocked out of title contention.

Johnson said Friday he saw the writing on the wall following his 40th place finish at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 5. It dropped him into a deep hole at the start of the three-race second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and a poor finish the next week at Charlotte just about sealed his fate.

He went to Talladega Superspeedway in a must-win situation last week, and although he led the most laps, he finished 24th and failed to advance to the third round.

He was disappointed, but said he sensed it was coming after Kansas.

"That was really when I came to grips with not advancing and not being a championship contender," Johnson said. "It wasn't fun leaving Kansas or Charlotte. It was relatively dark, not a lot of sunlight floating around. But you have that. I truly believe those moments make you stronger. They make you dig in deeper. I don't want to be in this position. This is great medicine to sit and watch this championship unfold. It's going to motivate me (and) all of us on the 48 team. We'll be back next year and ready to roll."

Johnson has only been eliminated from title contention before the finale once since the Chase began in 2004. He was not eligible to win it in 2011, when Tony Stewart beat Carl Edwards in a tie-breaker.

But the format this year eliminates four drivers after every three races of the Chase, with the title being decided at the Homestead finale. The highest finisher out of four drivers will win the Sprint Cup. Johnson will try to win races over the final month, even though the title is out of reach.

"The mindset is simple," he said. "We want to close out the year well. We want to finish as high as we can in points. We want to win races. We did not have a good last three races for a variety of reasons. This does open up an opportunity to work on `15 from a personnel standpoint. Testing is gone next year, so anything we can do to work on the 2015 package will suit us well. We're not slowing down any. These last four weeks are going to be as busy as any as we're getting geared up for 2015."

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