By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Although Jimmie Johnson ran inside the top-10 for much of the Federated Auto Parts 400, the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion still flew under the radar at Richmond Raceway. While the “Big Three” and Brad Keselowski dominated the race, Johnson quietly finished the race in eighth place.
After a poor qualifying effort left him starting 21st, Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 didn’t break into the top-10 until the second stage. A broken trackbar adjuster and a pit road speeding penalty just added to the challenges that Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led team faced with lengthy green flag runs throughout the 400-lap race.
The race was dominated by once again Martin Truex, Jr., Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and eventual race winner Kyle Busch. A tame mid-Round of 16 race allowed Johnson to climb into eighth by the end of the second stage. Many of the Playoff drivers appeared to be protecting their points in anticipation of the unknown of the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
“The track bar adjustments weren’t working, so I was really limited on the adjustments in the car; especially here,” Johnson said of his performance limitations Saturday night. “You need to have the track bar so high to get started and then lower it in the course of a run. I just had to deal with it. I think we could have been better, but it was a nice top 10 finish. Hopefully we can go to the Roval and have a great day. Richmond is not our best track. And to get a top 10 is a respectable run for us.
“I think we could have been at least inside the top five. I think we came close to maximizing what we had in it. So, I feel good about that. We came from the back two or three different times for different reasons and had a good finish out of it.”
After the events of Richmond, Johnson is 14th on the Playoff Grid. He now sits 87-points behind Truex, the Championship Points Leader. Johnson is just six points behind Ryan Blaney, who holds the final transfer spot for the Round of 12 heading into the Round of 16 elimination race.
Looking ahead to next weekend’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson’s odds may be better than his Playoff Grid competitors. Although the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has yet to compete on a road course/oval hybrid track, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has multiple starts on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
In seven Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona starts, Johnson has two runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2008. He also has one start in the Brumos Porsche 250 at the Daytona Road Course, finishing ninth.
Johnson admitted that the Charlotte Roval will likely be a race of survival.
“I think surviving is just the biggest thing. We will just go there and give 100 percent and do what we can. It’s been one of those years, but we are going to go down swinging to the bitter end.”