When the Sprint Cup Chase got underway four races ago at Chicagoland Speedway, six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was never mentioned as one of the favorites to end up in the Championship Four with a chance for his record-tying seventh title.
All of that changed on Sunday after he won the rain-delayed Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The win was his third of the season and should not come as much of a surprise, as the Hendrick Motorsports driver had previously won seven races at the mile-and-a-half track. It was also the 78th win of his hall of fametype career and this may be one of the most important as he now automatically advances into the Round of 8 regardless of where he finishes in the next two races at Kansas and what is considered one of the wild card races of the Chase at Talladega.
Johnson’s and his crew chief Chad Knaus’s trip to Charlotte’s victory lane broke a 24-race winless streak that was the longest of his career. The duo earned the win in a manner that the series was used to seeing as Knaus and his pit crew worked on the car at every stop making it better until the final pit stop under caution when they got him off pit road in second behind Matt Kenseth. Once the green flag waved, Johnson wasted very little time making the pass for the lead as he went on to win by 1.474 seconds.
While it was a good day for Johnson and runner-up finisher Kenseth, almost half of the 12 Chase drivers finished 30th or worse. The seven Chase drivers that finished at least inside the top 30 now find themselves with somewhat of a cushion as the series heads to Kansas for the second of the three races that makes up the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr. finished 13th which puts him in seventh in the Chase standings, but he has a 19-point cushion above the cut-off line of advancing to the next round.
In the past a poor finish in the first race in one of the three-race rounds would have a driver playing catch up over the next two races, but because there were five drivers with a finish of 30th or worse, Denny Hamlin’s 30th-place finish has him in the final transfer spot of 8th with a narrow threepoint lead over Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, who sit in the 9th and 10th spot in the standings. Joey Logano is six points back in 11th and Kevin Harvick’s 38thplace Charlotte finish has him last in the Chase standings in 12th but still in the thick of the race as he is only eight points from being one of the drivers that will advance into the Round of 8.
CHASE NOTES: The schedule will be making its second consecutive stop at a mile-and-a-half track next weekend when the series rolls into Kansas Speedway for the running of the Hollywood Casino 400. Just like last weekend at Charlotte, one of the favorites has to be Jimmie Johnson who leads all Chase drivers with three career victories at the track in 20 Kansas starts. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano are the only other Chase drivers that have multiple wins at the track as both have posted a pair of victories. Chase Elliott leads all drivers with a 9.0 finishing average, but the rookie has only one start at the track. Jimmie Johnson has a posted a 9.2 finishing average over his career followed by Carl Edwards who has a 10.6 average finish over a 19-race span. Kansas has proven to be one of Kyle Busch’s worst tracks as he has only posted 5 top- 10 finishes in 17 races and during that span he has compiled a 19.2 finishing average. He also has one of the worst driver’s ratings for the track at 83.8, which pales considerably when compared to Johnson’s series-leading 107.4.
Event: Hollywood Casino 400.
Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5- mile quad-oval, 17o-20o of banking in the turns).
Date: Oct. 16, 2:15 p.m.
Def. Champion: Joey Logano.