Bowman crashed on Lap 67 and nursed his car to a 33rd-place finish 18 laps down, running the final 93 laps just hoping that no driver who had not qualified for the playoffs would pick up an automatic bid.
When Brad Keselowski crossed the finish line for the win, Bowman could finally have some consolation that he had made the 16-driver playoff field.
"It's hard to be excited after that one," Bowman said while standing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit road following the regular-season finale. "I'm pretty disappointed. ... [Making the playoffs] doesn't really make me feel that much better right now.
"It's still frustrating. We're not running the way we need to be running."
The Bowman crash, in which AJ Allmendinger was hoping for a little more room from Bowman and ended up spinning and collecting Bowman, allowed Johnson to breathe easy -- he had a 19-point lead on Bowman entering the race -- and finished on the lead lap in 16th.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion didn't seem all that impressed that he made the playoffs. Neither him nor his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Bowman has won a race this year.
"I want to make the playoffs, but running 16th like I did, that's not relief," Johnson said. "The first couple of rounds, I guess you can [advance] on points, but we need to start winning quick if we want to have our championship hopes be where we want it."
They weren't the only frustrated competitors who had "good" days.
Kyle Busch didn't seem too excited after an eighth-place finish clinched him a regular-season "championship" that earned him 15 playoff points. He had clinched that extra bonus by the end of the second stage, while Kevin Harvick, who finished fourth overall, was second in the regular-season standings, which earned him 10 playoff points.
NASCAR, for the first time, gave the regular-season champion a trophy.
"It's pretty cool," Busch said about the cup-shaped trophy. "It's another place we can stash more toys [for my son]. ... [Those points are] about the only positive we got out of the day. It was a rough day for us."