By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
How many different obstacles in an elimination race can be thrown a drivers’ way? For Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson, a multitude of issues almost cost him a chance to fight for an unprecedented eighth series championship. Johnson narrowly escaped Kansas Speedway with his Championship hopes intact, a mere nine points ahead of Kyle Larson.
Johnson ended the Hollywood Casino 400 in 11th, a far cry from where it looked like he would finish. Not once, but twice, Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS broke loose in the final stage of the race. The first time, he spun through the grass off turn four and was placed on the five-minute repair clock. On the ensuing restart, Johnson spun again without completing lap. As a result, he remained on the repair clock.
When Johnson brought his car to the attention of his pit crew, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, seven pit crew members jumped off the wall. Unlike the case of Matt Kenseth, where the extra crewman worked on the car, Johnson’s extra crewman serviced the driver, removing a windshield tear-off. Kenseth was parked by NASCAR while Johnson continued because of the different actions by the crewmen.
The next restart resulted in 12-car pile-up. Johnson sped through, just missing the destroyed car of Jamie McMurray. Also, involved in the wreck was Kenseth, which set in motion a series of events that eventually led to the end of his race and championship hopes. Johnson finally met minimum speed on the next restart.
Johnson admitted that his car was just too loose,
“Heck, I had two of them. I had one off of (Turn) 4 and the other in (Turn) 3 on the restart. The car was extremely loose. We fought the balance throughout the day and the car would swing so hard. We were trying for short run speed to free the car up and we just got too far with it and I spun out twice. Thankfully I didn’t hit anything too hard.”
“And when things really changed was down the back straightaway in that wreck. Somehow, I went through there at a high rate of speed and missed everybody. I don’t know how, but I made it. And then the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) car was sitting there and I thought I had him lined-up for a square impact, but fortunately he slid out of the way. It wasn’t a pretty day, but we got it done.”
After reseeding for the Round of Eight, Johnson moves from eighth in the Playoff Standings to be tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth. Johnson is 52-points behind race winner, and points leader Martin Truex, Jr. Being tied for fourth, he is also on the bubble for the Championship Four.
Now Johnson, Knaus, and the entire No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team will prepare for Martinsville Speedway, where they have historically been very successful over the years, including a win last year.