Johnson is back into victory lane
Yes, Jimmie Johnson’s 24-race winless streak ended last Sunday at the hurricane-delayed Charlotte Bank of America 500. Johnson spanked the field to win his eighth Cup race there, and also punched his ticket for the Round of Eight in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Matt Kenseth beat Johnson out of the pits in the last restart, but Jimmie got a great start and went by on the inside and drove away from the field. It was a masterful performance by the entire team, with Chad Knaus masterminding the race strategy as he does so well. But as good as the day was for Johnson, it was a disaster for five of the Chase contenders. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were out early while Austin Dillon and rookie Chase Elliot were caught up in a wreck 75 laps from the end. And, Denny Hamlin’s engine let go just 26 laps shy of the checker while he was running up front. Hamlin is now just three points ahead of Dillon and Elliot, who are outside looking in. Logano is six points out and Harvick eight.
Of course, there are two more races in the Round of 12, so a win in either one will advance a driver to the next round. Kansas is up next, and here are the stats: Johnson is the winningest Chase driver with three wins at Kansas, most recently in May of last year. Logano has two Kansas victories, the Chase rounds in 2014 and 2015. Harvick won the 2013 Chase race at Kansas, and both he and Logano desperately need another win to ensure advancement to the next round. Among other Chase drivers who have scored Kansas wins, Kenseth has two victories, Kyle Busch won his first Kansas race earlier this year, and Hamlin has also visited victory lane there once as well. Among non-Chase drivers, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle have posted two Kansas wins apiece. Based on those stats, I’d give Logano, Kyle, and Jimmie the best odds of taking the checkered flag tomorrow, with Johnson coming off his Charlotte victory and Logano and Busch both recent Kansas winners.
The Xfinity series wrapped up its Round of 12 at Charlotte on Sunday as well, with four drivers being eliminated. The four were Dillon, who missed the cut by a single point, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Jones and Brennan Poole. Logano won the race, but top point scorers Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez finished second and third.
Erik Jones, who needed a good finish to transfer, was fifth. Other drivers who will advance are Justin Allgaier, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Blake Koch. The Round of Eight begins this weekend at Kansas.
The Formula One driving championship picture became a bit clearer in Japan last weekend as Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won his first Japanese Grand Prix and extended his point lead over teammate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton overcame a terrible start to work his way back to third. Hamilton was cutting into Rosberg’s lead significantly in the late going, but couldn’t get past a defensive-driving Max Verstappen.
Verstappen, who just turned 19, isn’t the most popular driver in the field due to his aggressive style. The series has a weekend off before racing at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on October 23.