By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
After being a non-factor the last two weeks, tire strategy earns Jimmie Johnson a top-10 finish in the Ticket Guardian 500. The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion ran inside the top-10 throughout much of the race at ISM Raceway.
Johnson and his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team led by crew chief Kevin Meendering elected to take two tires under caution with 91 laps to go. On not one, but two ensuing restarts, he held his own in the melee at the front of the pack. Johnson eventually settled into a position just outside the top-five. As drivers with four fresh tires climbed through the field, he slipped to eighth. Johnson held off Kevin Harvick for the position.
“Definitely a strong performance,” Johnson explained. “We need more. We need to find more, but on a short track where grip is so important our guys did a nice job all weekend long of bringing a little bit more. Excited about that. We weathered the storm on two tires, on four and ended up with a nice top 10.”
In the second stage, Johnson and Meendering used a similar strategy to gain track position in the first place. He ran inside the top-five before finishing the stage in seventh. The seventh-place finish for the second stage was just the third time this season that Johnson earned stage points this season.
“It’s not a victory, but it’s definitely a solid day for the Ally Chevrolet,” Johnson admitted. “These guys have been working so hard at Hendrick Motorsports to get us more and more and we took a good step in the right direction. I even think at Vegas we were better than where we finished. Once we lost track position, we struggled the second half of the race. Atlanta was terrible, can’t say anything different there.
“We are learning each week and I still think we have some catching up to do, but certainly a solid performance. Kevin called a great race, it was really tricky with strategy, two tires, four tires, our pit crew had to adjust mid pit stop one time and go from four to two and everybody responded really well.”
For the first time this season, Johnson assumed the lead. It came at the expense of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman. Under caution as a result of a blown tire by Bowman, Johnson took the lead. On the restart, he relinquished the lead to eventual race winner, Kyle Busch.
The eighth-place finish is just the second top-10 for Johnson this season. It also moves him from 17th in the championship points standings to 15th. Johnson is 79-points behind points leader Busch. He is also just four point ahead of the cutoff for the playoffs, held by Bowman.