By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
A non-factor early, Jimmie Johnson burst on to the scene out of nowhere to earn a top-10 finish at Kansas Speedway.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion leapt into the top-five in the final 30 laps of the Digital Ally 400. Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 avoided disaster as his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott broke loose in front of the field.
Johnson took advantage and gained several positions as others slowed to avoid Elliott. He settled into fourth as Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, and eventual race winner Brad Keselowski pulled away. In overtime, Johnson lost slipped and fell to sixth by the time the checkered flag waved.
“The first half, two-thirds of that race, we were terrible,” Johnson explained. “That’s just the bottom line. Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) made some really good adjustments to get us back in the game and we worked out way up to fourth on the second to the last re-start and I lost a couple of spots there on the last restart.
“We’re still missing a chunk of speed even out there running by ourselves there’s a pretty good gap from our car to even our own teammates’ cars. We’re missing something. We’ve just got to get on top of it. But tonight, was a night of perseverance and the guys did a nice job of keeping their heads in the game and taking a 25th place car and finishing sixth with it.”
After he started 12th, Johnson fell off the face of the Earth. He fell to 19that the end of stage one and was 20thto close out stage 2. Johnson was one of many caught a lap down or more in the middle of a round of green flag pit stops when the caution waved for a loose tire in the infield.
Forced to take the wave around, Johnson moved back onto the lead lap. However, he was one of several drivers that moved back and forth on the grid as NASCAR attempted to correct the order for the upcoming restart.
“The first three-quarters of the race was pretty awful for us,” Johnson admitted. “But, the guys kept their head in the game and made some big adjustments and made some good adjustments and we got back in the mix.
“We’re still missing some speed though. So, we’ve still got plenty of work to do. I’m pretty frustrated and we’ve got to try to get on top of things. That’s the bottom line.”
The sixth-place finish was the fifth top-10 for Johnson this season and the 357th of his career.
As a result of the top-10 finish, Johnson now holds the cutoff for the playoffs in 16th, up from 17th last week. He is 186-points behind points leader Joey Logano. Johnson holds the cutoff by just eight points over Ryan Newman.