By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
How can seven-time and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson fly under radar in the Playoffs? By being outside the top-10 throughout the entire weekend until the final stage of the Tales of the Turtles 400.
Johnson had a quiet weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. He finished eighth, but was 11th at the end of both stages. Unlike some of his fellow Playoff competitors, Johnson had flawless pit stops for his No. 48 Lowe’s / Hitachi Chevrolet SS.
Throughout the entire race passing was at a premium. The torrid pace that race leaders Kyle Busch, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, and eventual race winner Martin Truex, Jr. set left little time for their competition to catch up. It was miscues on pit road that allowed Johnson to move ahead of some of his Playoff competitors, namely Kyle Busch.
Johnson admitted that passing was at a premium,
“Yeah, the cars are all so equal at least the guys from third or fourth on back we are all so equal. If you could get by somebody on a restart that was really about it, but for me, my car just really wanted to run the bottom of the race track. The higher I would go the looser it would get. I knew there was a lot of real estate up there to try to take advantage of I just couldn’t make it work and had to chase the bottom all day long.”
Johnson slipped from sixth to eighth in the Playoff standings despite his eighth-place finish. He now sits 56-points behind point leader Truex and just 20-points ahead of the cutoff, currently held by Kurt Busch.
Looking ahead to next weekend’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Johnson’s odds are promising. Among active drivers at the ‘Magic Mile,’ he has the fourth-best average finish. In the five most recent races at the 1.058-mile track, Johnson is ninth in average finishes with a driver rating of 95.3.
In Johnson’s career at New Hampshire, he has three victories, 10 top-fives, and 21 top-10s in 31 starts. However, in the last five races at NHMS, he has just three top-10s and has led just one lap.
Now Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, and the entire No. 48 team will look to improve on these stats as they hope to lock themselves into the Round of 12 for the Playoffs.