Hendrick Motorsports’ recent run, Jimmie Johnson’s win has competitors on notice

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CONCORD, N.C. — Competitors saw this coming, yet there was nothing they could do to stop it.

After a lackluster summer that led some people to question how far Jimmie Johnson would advance in the Chase, Hendrick Motorsports has returned to prominence.

Johnson’s win Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway moves him into him into the Round of 8 and alters the feeling of this Chase.

“I think people would probably rate them as probably the favorite,’’ said car owner Joe Gibbs, whose teams have won a series-high 11 of 30 races this year.

Even as David Wilson celebrated Martin Truex Jr.’s win last weekend at Dover, the president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development, said he knew a challenge was coming from Johnson’s team.

“What struck me as much as winning the race (at Dover) was how good (Johnson) was,’’ Wilson said Sunday.

Johnson didn’t contend for the win at Dover because of a pit road penalty. A speeding penalty prevented him from racing for the win at Chicagoland Speedway to open the Chase last month. Johnson’s team had no issues Sunday, leading 155 of the 334 laps to score his first win since March.

Johnson and his team have been mistake-prone this summer because they’ve been pushing to try to catch up to the Toyotas. But with the cars better, Johnson and his team showed that they no longer have to operate within a razor-thin margin of error.

“The easiest way to describe it would be I don’t have to scare myself to put up a good lap time,’’ Johnson said of what’s changed with his car since this summer.

Earlier this season, Johnson couldn’t make the car comfortable. The result was a 14-race stretch where he did not lead more than five laps in any race.

Now, he can.

“To have the car as consistent and stable as it is has really allowed us to be competitive, work through traffic, work through changing track conditions, and then if I do need to go out there and scare myself and pull away from (Matt Kenseth) or pull away from (Denny Hamlin), I can do it and get rewarded for it,’’ Johnson said.

That was no more apparent than the final restart. Kenseth led and had the preferred line. When the green waved, they went through Turns 1 and 2 side by side and drag raced down the backstretch, a mano-a-mano battle between Chevrolet and Toyota with Johnson’s Chevrolet pulling ahead and then pulling away.

“We were just a little off,’’ Kenseth said. “I just couldn’t run (Johnson) on a short run. I don’t think I could have done anything different there.’’

Kenseth wasn’t the only one searching for more speed Sunday. Brad Keselowski finished seventh — his lowest finish in the first four Chase races — but crew chief Paul Wolfe wasn’t thrilled.

“I feel like the Gibbs cars, we’re close to those guys, but it’s like the Hendrick cars and (Truex) have had the raw speed,’’ Wolfe said. “I feel like we’ve kind of been tit-for-tat with the Gibbs cars, depending on track position or balance. We’re just off right now.

“We could not get the speed to maintain in the top five once we got that track position.

Wolfe said that if he can’t find the speed, he’ll have to be more aggressive to make up for the deficit.

It isn’t just Johnson who has been fast for Hendrick. Chase Elliott led at least 75 laps for the second time in four races Sunday before he was collected in a crash on a restart. Kasey Kahne’s third-place finish was his fifth top-10 result in the last six races — his best stretch all season.

“Nobody ever gave up, and you know, we know what a champion Jimmie is,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said. “We were good here in the May race. We’ve been good on the mile‑and‑a‑halves, and we’ve been better than we’ve finished. But this feels good.’’

To all but the competition.

Now Johnson in set for the Round of 8 and the rest of the Chase field has two races to determine who will join him.

Jimmie Johnson to start in the rear after gear change

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson‘s bid for a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400 will have to begin at the back of the 40-car field.

Johnson qualified fourth Saturday but stated on Twitter that he’ll have to go to the rear of the field because they had to change the rear gear.

Although track position is pivotal at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because passing is difficult, optimists can view Johnson’s woes as a good sign. He has scored two of his three wins this season – Texas and Dover – after starting in the rear.

Also starting at the rear today is Cole Whitt (rear gear change) and Joey Gase (engine change). Whitt qualified 34th. Gase qualified 38th.

Today’s race is on NBC. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green.

 

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Today’s Cup race at Indianapolis: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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The NASCAR Cup Series takes part in the 24th annual Brickyard 400 today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It marks one year since Kyle Busch earned his last Cup win, when he claimed his second Brickyard 400 in a row. Busch starts from the pole for the second year in a row.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which airs on NBC.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 2:32 p.m. Green flag is set for 2:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 160 laps (400 miles) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 50. Stage 2 ends on Lap 100.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 1:55 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Carly Pearce will perform the Anthem at 2:26 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast on radio and the Performance Racing Network at 1:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the IMSRN/PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 89 degrees at race time with a 15 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Kyle Busch started from the pole and led 149 of the race’s 170 total laps. It was his second win in a row in the race. Matt Kenseth finished second, Jimmie Johnson finished third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the full starting lineup.

Get a humorous look at life in the pits in, what else, ‘The Pits’ on NBC livestream

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Life in the pits can sometimes, well … really be the pits.

But it can also be a hilarious look at life in NASCAR, as well.

That’s the premise behind “The Pits,” a three-part “mockumentary-style series” that spoofs the life of the fictitious SONIC pit crew in NASCAR.

“The Pits” debuts Sunday on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. After each 2-3 minute episode airs, replays will be available on NBCSports.com and also the NASCAR on NBC Facebook page.

The first episode airs during this Sunday’s live stream of the Brickyard 400, which will be televised on NBC.

Episode 1 follows pit pro Rita, who falls for tire specialist Max, but Max’s only affection is for SONIC Pretzel Dogs.

The other two episodes of The Pits will livestream Saturday night, August 19, during the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and during the Sunday, October 15 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“The Pits” is produced for NBC Sports Group and SONIC Drive-In by The Kicker, with shareable content running across NBC Sports Digital assets.

Starting lineup for 24th annual Brickyard 400

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Kyle Busch will lead the Brickyard 400 to the green flag Sunday for the second year in a row.

He earned his fourth pole of the year and is seeking his first Cup win since the 2016 Brickyard 400.

Following Busch in the starting lineup is Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin is the only driver in the top five who hasn’t won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Click here for the full starting lineup.