How a two-week head start on the title race affords a better choice for Jimmie Johnson

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FORT WORTH, Texas – While the competition renews its battle for the three remaining championship berths this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson’s team is two weeks ahead of the game.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion, who advanced to the title round for the first time with Sunday’s victory at Martinsville Speedway to open the Round of 8, said the head-start is affording Hendrick Motorsports more wisdom in choosing its No. 48 Chevrolet for the Nov. 20 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“(The Martinsville win) has given us some flexibility,” Johnson said Wednesday during a media availability in Charlotte. “The car we raced in Darlington and a new car we built are both going back to the wind tunnel, and we’ll let the wind tunnel determine which one goes. It’s given us a little time to complete a second car and make a decision between those two.”

Johnson also triumphed at Charlotte Motor Speedway to open the Round of 12. Locking up a berth through the races at Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway allowed more tuning on his car at Martinsville, where he won at the 0.526-mile oval track for the first time in three years.

“I think it helps,” he said. “The freedom we had to not worry about Talladega opened up some extra time to prep for Martinsville. That’s what I’ve seen so far this week. We did our Tuesday debrief, and we couldn’t get through the Texas prep quick enough because we’re all here to talk about Homestead.

“We stayed long and talked about Homestead, and that led to more conversations (Tuesday) night. So instead of obsessing over (the next two races at) Texas and Phoenix — we’re definitely giving it time and attention — but the obsession is about Homestead. If we can just get a day or two ahead or a few steps ahead and be that much more prepared, the better.”

Johnson, who still could be considered the favorite Sunday at Texas having won the AAA 500 in four consecutive seasons, has no preference on his three opponents in the championship round but jokes he will enter as the underdog at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His average finish of 14.1 at the 1.5-mile track ranks fourth among remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers.

But perhaps the reason Johnson hasn’t won at Miami is because he rarely has entered the race needing a victory. In his first four championships, he was protecting a points lead and finished ninth, seventh 15th and fifth.

“The thing that’s hard is you’re so damn nervous, especially when you’re protecting,” he said. “The fact you run so close to the wall at Homestead when you’re protecting something, you’re so nervous that you’re going to (damage the) right side (of) the car.

“I think the cars were better than (the results). I’m not sure they were dominant cars, but they were better. I was driving around a little concerned, a little scared.”

This is the first time Johnson will contend for the title since the playoff structure was altered in 2014, awarding the championship to the best finish of four contenders at Miami.

The last two instances in which Johnson entered the finale trailing in the standings, Johnson he finished second in 2010 (winning his fifth championship) and led 25 laps in 2012 before a gear failure.

“That was our most competitive race there,” he said. “I’m certainly believing we can race for it. You have to. I think you have to win to win (the championship).”

Starting lineup for Cup race at Richmond

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Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott will start on the front row for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Truex won his third pole of the season.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Kyle Busch, who is trying to win a third consecutive race, qualified 32nd.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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Martin Truex Jr. qualified first for Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway, winning his third pole of the season.

Truex claimed the pole with a speed of 123.859 mph around the .75-mile track. The Toyota Owners 400 will mark Truex’s 450th Cup start. Truex had DNFs in the last two races.

“It’s definitely been a crappy two weeks,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “But that’s part of racing. This team, I’ve got so much faith and confidence in them and everything we’re doing. You can’t let those kinds of things get you down. It was nothing we did, just circumstances. Just proud of the effort today.”

The pole matches Truex’s total from last year.

Chase Elliott qualified second (123.621 mph). The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Ryan Blaney will start 12th, followed by Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson.

Daniel Hemric will start 22nd in his first Cup start.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski both failed to advance out of the first round. Keselowski will start 28th and Busch will start 32nd.

“We didn’t make a mock run in practice and then we thought the spread would be about three tenths (of a second),” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “It wasn’t, it was faster than that. We only ran two laps trying to make sure we preserve out tires for later on deeper into the session. A bunch of those guys ran three laps and obviously we needed that third lap. It would have picked up. For some reason the tire here today, even in race trim, your fastest lap was the seventh lap. So just takes awhile for everything to come in. Just trying to short cut it a little bit and it didn’t work out for us.”

Click here for qualifying results.

Cole Custer wins pole for Xfinity race at Richmond

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Cole Custer will start first in tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway after earning his second consecutive pole.

Custer won the pole for the ToyotaCare 250 with a lap of 121.332 mph. He earned his first career pole last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will be joined on the front row by Christopher Bell (120.881 mph). He has started on the front row in four of the first eight races this season.

The top five is rounded out by Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek.

Cindric will start in the top five for the first time this season.

Hemric is the highest qualifying of the four Dash 4 Cash drivers. Justin Allgaier will start seventh and Elliott Sadler will roll off eighth. Spencer Gallagher will start 17th.

Noah Gragson will start 11th in his Xfinity debut.

Tyler Reddick suffered some cosmetic damage when he scrapped the frontstretch wall in Round 2. He will start 10th.

Click here for qualifying results.

Tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series is back on a short track for round two of the Dash 4 Cash series. Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric and Spencer Gallagher will compete for the $100,000 bonus tonight at Richmond Raceway.

Here is all the info for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START:  Leslie Gravitte, Toyota Camry owner, will give the command to start engines at 7:07 p.m for the ToyotaCare 250. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (187.5 miles) around the .75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:10 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Henrico Fire Choir will perform the anthem at 7:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: calls for a high of 59 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson took the lead with 10 laps to go to win this race last April. He was followed by Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric. Brad Keselowski won last September’s race and was followed by Kyle Busch and Ty Dillon.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup.