What Drivers Said after Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

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Racing at Talladega — and how the race typically winds up — usually leaves NASCAR Cup drivers talking a lot.

And after Sunday’s Geico 500 was no different, as drivers had plenty to say about how the race wound up, being involved in a big wreck and more.

Here’s What Drivers Said:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished first: “We’ve been terrible for a long time. This year, every race we’re getting better and better. We knew that Talladega was a good racetrack for us. It’s been a good one in the past and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson. He was with us on that last lap. This Fifth Third Bank Ford was so fast today – qualified on the pole and got the win. I can’t say enough about the guys. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in Victory Lane. This is cool. The closest race track to my hometown and the fans were out here this weekend.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished second: “I thought it was super hard to pass today. I don’t know how everybody else felt. Until the tires wore out and the cars started sliding around, it was just three wide, and there really wasn’t anywhere to go. I actually raced with Kyle (teammate Kyle Larson) in about 30th for quite a bit of the race because there was no holes. It seemed like as the tires wore out and it got down to two lanes that you could kind of make people three wide and make some passes. It’s super circumstantial on the track of who’s in front of you, who’s behind you. Like there’s times when you feel like you’re going to have a good run and you don’t, and then there’s other times that it happens. So it was a good overall day for us.”

Kyle Busch – Finished third: “Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push and got by us there and then it was just about retaliation to get back on him and I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together. We did all we could here today and it’s all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn’t quite go our way, but we go to a real race track next week and we’ll try to win there.”

Aric Almirola – Finished fourth: “I thought I was right where I wanted to be. My car was really good through the middle of the pack and I didn’t want to get shuffled to the bottom. I was adamant about that, but I thought we had some pretty good runs toward the end and I thought we were gonna have a shot at it, but just getting side drafted and stuff we got stalled out. All in all it was a great day for our Fresh from Florida Ford Fusion and another Blue Oval two days in a row goes to Victory Lane.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished fifth: “We were a little better the closer we got to the front. We were trying hard, I just couldn’t push the car in front of me, so we weren’t really going as far as we wanted to go. But, it was still a great run for our UniFirst team. We ran up there throughout the last half of the race and that was pretty good. Congrats to Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) and Roush and those guys. They deserve it they have been working really hard.”

Kurt Busch – Finished sixth: “I felt like we had a nice bit of strength today. It was good to come back to a restrictor-plate race and battle and defend what we did in Daytona. We got sixth today. Had a really good run with (Jamie) McMurray down the back straightaway, and I thought we were going to do some great things coming to the front straightaway. We just didn’t keep that draft with him. Awesome day for Ford and the way that (Ricky) Stenhouse won and how all of us worked together. It’s good teamwork for the Blue Oval.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished eighth: “We had a very solid race car all day long. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, everybody on this Lowe’s car and just great teammates to work with out there. Great Chevy’s to work with and we finished a plate race and I don’t even think there is a scratch on this thing.  I mean that is like a double victory even though we finished eighth.”

David Ragan – Finished 10th: “Yeah, a team effort for sure. We had a really good car. It was a calm race until the last 50 laps. You just didn’t know when to be aggressive and when not to. We wanted to take care of our Camping World Ford. We got a little bit of damage there at the end and got damage from one of those wrecks and had to spend some time on pit road. The team did a great job fixing it up. The car still drove great at the end.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 13th: ”It was an intense 500-mile race, but I think our Geico Chevy ran well. It was tough to find cars to stay with us today, but we were able to move our way into the top ten on a couple occasions and even get out front to lead a few GEICO 500 laps. The car was a little tight, but overall, it was a strong day for this Germain Racing team.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 14th: “It was just an up-and-down day for us. Frustrating because we were fast and didn’t get to race for the win. It was cool to lead laps, though. We had a great First Fusion.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 22nd: “It was very disappointing. In traffic, it wasn’t very good at all. We didn’t run many laps inside the Top 5 or Top 10 all day because the car just really didn’t have a lot of speed doubled-up with everybody side-by-side. We’ve just got to try to work on that if we can. The car runs great by itself. But anytime we got a bit close to the front, those guys around me were just a little stronger to do things to put us in some bad spots and drop us back to the back. It happened time and time again. We’ll just have to see what we’re doing with the car and what we can improve.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 23rd: “I really don’t know what it was (the race-long vibration his car had), but it stayed with us all day. I didn’t know what to do. To have a car that can lead laps and run up front, this time we just happened to wreck up front. Solid performance from the team, just bad luck.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 30th: “(Allmendinger) just apologized. I don’t know that it was really his fault, per se. He had a big run, and he kind of got to my bumper and just happened to be in a bad spot coming up off the corner and was skewed a little bit to my left rear. And when that happens, it just unloads these cars too much.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 31st: “Yeah, I’m fine (after his wreck). I’m happy I didn’t get hit upside down. I’m all good. Our race team does a great job with safety. It’s just Talladega. It’s all it is. I think (Kevin) Harvick got behind me, and we were shoving, and Chase opened the door and then kind of closed it, and I tried to check up just a little bit and tapped him and when I checked up, it was a big wreck after that. I barely tapped (Elliott). And then I tried to get off him, but at that point, it was too late. It was just one of those things battling for the lead.”

Joey Logano – Finished 32nd: “I saw Chase tank-slapping it down the backstretch. I was hoping he’d turn to the left when he started spinning, but he went up the racetrack, and I was just sitting there in the outside lane saying, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be the first one there, and I can’t get away from him.’ So we got into the crash, unfortunately. That’s kind of a bummer. It’s part of it and part of superspeedway racing. Sometimes you win these things, and sometimes you get caught up in them. We’ll move on and hit the next race.”

Erik Jones – Finished 33rd: “I’m fine (limping after race). My heel is just a little bit hot from the race and hard to step on them when they’re cooking. I’m fine. It’s just unfortunate, I thought we had a good run going today, and I thought we had a car that was definitely capable of running in the top-10. I was up on the high side and saw the 24 (Chase Elliott) get loose and just can’t really do much, and there’s really nowhere to go. I wasn’t able to avoid it and got caught up in it.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 34th: “I’m not really sure. It kind of happened a few rows in front of me. All I saw was the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) coming back across the race track. I’m not sure how he got spun, but he ended up on the hood of the Winn-Dixie Chevrolet and unfortunately, just enough damage to not get it re-fired. The car wasn’t that bad, but must have done something to the motor there because I couldn’t get it fired up.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR – finished 35th: “It felt like we were in pretty good position most of the day. We got shuffled to the outside one time there and got in a bad spot and then they started wrecking. It’s a shame, it’s the way it goes here. Unfortunately for us, it’s been a tough one to finish, but we did get stage points today so that’s a bonus and at least it’s better than running all day and crashing out and not getting anything. All in all, it’s one of those deals, and it’s Talladega. Looking forward to Kansas next week for sure.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 36th: “I just saw somebody come across the field there and started checking up. I got kind of pushed back into it. I mean, it was just Talladega, it’s part of it. We are three-wide trying to get as much position as we can there at the end, and we were just too far back and we got in (it).”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 37th: Days of Thunder smoke, I think (on what he saw in the big wreck). I wasn’t trying to drive through it contrary to the way the video looks. I tried to get checked up, but you don’t have very good brakes at superspeedways, but I was on them as soon as I saw the smoke there. It’s just really hard to navigate. I stayed up high kind of hoping it would hit the wall and wash down and it didn’t. It stayed right up in front of me and I couldn’t see what I was driving into, but we had a really fast Ford this weekend. We qualified well with it. We ran up front all day and did all the things we needed to do.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 38th: “I was told to go low, and I just got spun. There was a lot of smoke, and it was hard to see. I really thought that everybody was doing a great job all day long. We were running two, three, four-wide all day long and nobody was getting too crazy. It’s to be expected. That’s part of the excitement of superspeedway racing. We had another really fast Aspen Dental Ford, we just couldn’t get to the finish.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 39th: “I have no idea (what happened in his late-race crash). We all kind of checked up, and I just got turned and destroyed. It figures. I haven’t gotten torn up too much here in the past, and I guess I was due one, but it wasn’t the week we needed. It’s been a few rough weeks in a row, but all you can do is get over it and move on.”

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A long time coming: Kurt Busch earns best finish since Daytona 500 win

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With a win in the Daytona 500, the 2017 Cup season couldn’t have started out better for Kurt Busch.

But since, it’s been a struggle much of the time for the 2004 Cup champion.

The Daytona win qualified him for the playoffs, but he exited after the first round.

Along the way, he managed just four other top-five finishes, had seven DNFs (six crashes, one engine issue) and has endured a mediocre 16.2 average finish per race.

But much of that was forgotten – at least for a little while – after Busch’s runner-up finish in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, his best showing since his Daytona 500 win.

“I really wanted that one bad,” Busch told NBCSN. “I don’t know what it is about this place. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Later, the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion praised Gibson further, although he didn’t exactly feel that way after Saturday’s qualifying.

“All in all, Tony Gibson deserves this second‑place finish,” Busch said. “He got on me pretty hard on Saturday morning after qualifying (15th). He said, You know, we got a brake problem. I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“He goes, ‘You didn’t use brake, that’s why we didn’t run good in run two and run three.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I never use brake in qualifying.’ So he actually really pissed me off. I spent the whole race pretty agitated. At the end, I made sure I used brake and brought it home in second.”

While his championship hopes were dashed at the end of the Round of 16, Busch hopes to build momentum for the remaining four races.

Yeah, it was nice to have things unfold in our favor today, even though I brushed the wall and got us a lap down early,” Busch said. “The mentality that I’ve been trying to accept right now is run for 10th, try not to push the car too hard. Anything above 10th is icing on the cake.”

One thing that helped Busch’s finish was using sticker tires instead of scuffs late in the race. That allowed him to close on race winner Martin Truex Jr., even though Busch still came up over two seconds short at the start-finish line.

“It’s a matter of just keeping track of the adjustments throughout the race, making sure that we use every set of sticker tires that we possibly can and get the most out of sticker tires,” he said. “When we have scuffs, we struggle. We’re a 15th place car on scuffs.”

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Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Among his final acts alive, James “Jim” Watson texted his wife Saturday night and told her what a great time he was having with his Furniture Row Racing teammates at a local go-kart track.

Soon after, the 55-year-old father suffered a fatal heart attack.

“I take a little bit of solace in that he was happy in his last moments,’’ said a misty-eyed Cole Pearn after Martin Truex Jr. rallied to win Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Pearn was on the way to the hospital Saturday night when he was told Watson died. The team later gathered at their hotel to grieve.

“We just all looked at each other and shed some tears and some hugs,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports.

No Cup team has faced so much personal adversity in such a public way this year as Furniture Row Racing. Its greatest season on the track has been offset by tragedy and tribulation.

Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, had surgery in July for a recurrence of cancer. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2014 and announced she was cancer-free in January 2016. Her ovarian cancer returned this summer. Truex won at Kentucky Speedway and brought her home from the hospital the next day. Her chemo treatments continue.

After the Kentucky race, Pearn’s closest childhood friend suddenly died after he caught a bacterial infection from a cut. Truex won that weekend at Watkins Glen to cap what Pearn called then “the hardest week of my life.’’

After Truex won at Charlotte two weeks ago, Pearn said “my wife and I put our dog down … that we’ve had for 13 years.

“It’s just like, man, I don’t know if regular life is supposed to be like this.’’

Then came Saturday night.

Watson had been with the team since February, joining as a fabricator, who worked on both the cars of Truex and Erik Jones. Watson was a longtime racer from Wisconsin.

“James was a friend to everybody,’’ said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “It’s hard to talk about.’’

Truex said both teams helped each other work through the pain while preparing for the race Sunday morning. Truex’s seventh victory of the season continued his dominance and is the most wins by a Cup driver in a season since Matt Kenseth won seven races in 2013.

Pearn called it “kind of overwhelming” to see Truex cross under the checkered flag ahead of the field less than 24 hours after Watson’s death. 

“I was doing OK and then I started seeing the faces on other guys,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports. “It just hits you like a ton of bricks.’’

When Truex won in the past, it had just been the No. 78 crew that gathered in Victory Lane. Sunday, the No. 77 crew also joined Truex’s team to celebrate a win and a life.

“Chris (Gayle) and I came to it … that if either one of us were fortunate enough to win, we’d both go to Victory Lane because Jim worked on both of our cars and was a part of both of our teams,’’ Pearn said of the crew chief for the No. 77 team.

It proved a fitting honor for Watson.

“He always wanted when we won to celebrate as a group,’’ Pearn said. “I just couldn’t think of any better way to pay tribute to him and know that he would have been happy with that call.’’

Tough night but the result was some solace we all needed. So proud of the team. For you Wildman RIP

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What Drivers Said after Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to be the most dominant – and winning – driver of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season and playoffs.

Truex’s win in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway was his third in the first six playoff races and his series-leading seventh win of 2017 – six which have come on 1.5-mile racetracks.

Now the playoffs advance to the Round of 8 semifinal round. Kyle Busch is second in the points, 27 points behind Truex, and Brad Keselowski is third, 43 points back.

Four drivers were eliminated from advancing to the next round: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

All of them, as well as many other drivers, had a lot to say about Sunday’s race:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (team member Jim Watson, who passed away Saturday night from a heart attack) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here. Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 2nd: “I really wanted that one bad. I don’t know what it is about this place. Kyle (Busch) struggles here too. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 3rd: “It was a good race. We did a nice job coming from the back and I thought we got our car pretty decent there in the second stage. Then there was a mixup with some strategy stuff and pit calls and it felt like we were kind of at the back part of that but we were able to recover and miss that wreck which was big for us. We ran strong enough all day that we should have been in with where we ran. I am really proud of my team for the effort and we will move on to the next round and Martinsville.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 4th: “It was a wild day for sure. We fought our balance all weekend. I know the result wasn’t terrible, but definitely feel like we could have been a lot better this weekend and just the way things worked out for us. But, our car got better as the day went along, we just didn’t have the balance on a very long run to go up and pass guys like you need to have. So, we will go to work and get this side of things ready for Texas.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 5th: We definitely got our car better from where it was yesterday, but still a little bit off today. Just fought a terminal condition that we just couldn’t fix on pit road, but proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team for giving me something I could battle up front there with a little bit. Just got to get a little faster on the short run and we’ll be fine. The biggest thing we need to work on is short run speed. If we can do that, then we could contend, but we’re heading to a mighty good race track for us next week (Martinsville) that hopefully we’re able to capitalize.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 6th: “Yeah, absolutely that was an awesome day for our Scott brands Chevrolet. But, just proud of everybody back at JTG Daugherty Racing. We have been working really hard the last several months to try and get it turned around. We have hit the summer months and we haven’t had the speed we wanted. So, this weekend was a big step in the right direction for us. It’s excited. It’s fun to come back and run well.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 7th: “We ended up having a decent run. I am just glad that we brought another good finish home. I think that is about where the car should have finished this weekend. … (On missing the big wreck) It’s all luck.  A lot of times if you just run the back of somebody and push them through it that kind of works for you too. I did a little bit of that too. Just real lucky. That helped us on our finish today. I don’t know if we could get the track position and get a top 10. The car was fast enough at times to run up there and finish up there, but we will take it.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 8th: “As you look at the result of the day you want to have a chance to win. We had a car capable of winning. Just got stuck in a box and the box kept on getting smaller and smaller. The caution came out with the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger spin) and that put us and the 18 in a bad spot. That was it. Our focus was one stage at a time and we accomplished that. After that it was about trying to win the race.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 10th: “I thought we had a good shot to go for the win today and got off on tire strategy a little today. (Martin) Truex got by us and he was checking out, but was just going to play it out when we pitted and the rest of those guys pitted, where it would all shake out. But obviously that caution came out and it bit us and got us behind. Fortunately, our situation today was that we had to race guys that ended up crashing out, hate it for them. I would have liked to race it heads up and that might have been a different situation, but all in all we’ll take what was given to us today and we’ll live to see another day and fight again next week going to Martinsville.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 11th: “(On Martinsville, where he has nine wins) It’s not a bad track for us. So, hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it. It’s not back to zero with all those stage points. For us to advance moving forward we’ve got to win. We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up. It’s really simple from our stand point. We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 13th: “We were good enough and better than our finish. The pit road speeding penalty was ridiculous because I was way under pit road speed and running right with everyone else both times and they didn’t get a penalty. I will have to see that one for my own eyes. All in all, my guys put a good effort in it and I think we were better than we finished.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a definitely a crazy day at Kansas Speedway. With the changing track conditions as the sun set and shaded parts of the track, we had to be on top of the adjustments to our GEICO Chevrolet for the entire race. My team did a great job making calls, and I didn’t struggle with balance much at all. Track position was just key, and it was hard to make passes out there. Overall, I think this was a good weekend and shows the improvements to our intermediate-track package. There’s still work to be done, but we are definitely getting closer.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 19th: “We just couldn’t get on the right side of anything, strategy-wise, nothing. We got caught up in the wreck. Certainly not the way you want to finish at home. I had a top-five car all weekend long, just wasn’t meant to be.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 20th: “We really didn’t have anywhere to go during that deal on the backstretch. … It’s really unfortunate we didn’t get the result we deserve but we will keep fighting and get after it next weekend at Martinsville.”

Joey Logano — Finished 21st: “We had a tough day with our Shell-Pennzoil Ford. We struggled on short run speed and once the field got spread out it was tough to make up spots. Then we got caught up in the wreck later in the race and that damage certainly didn’t help us. We’ll regroup and head to Martinsville next week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 29th: “We really struggled today with the handling of our Fastenal Ford. It’s a bummer we couldn’t advance but no one really gave us a chance to make the Round of 12. Overall, we have had a great season so we can’t hang our heads. We have four more races to gain as many points as we can and finish off the season strong.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 34th: “I had a really fast car. I thought we had one of the best cars, and I felt like if we could have gotten to the lead, I could have led the race for a while. It was a good Cessna Chevy. But we’ve had two bad races in a row and there’s nothing you can do about it. We had a car that could have won. I think if we could have gotten to the front, but just didn’t make it to the end.”

Erik Jones — Finished 35th: “(On his wreck) I just lost it. It’s unfortunate and I feel bad for my guys and my team and I also feel bad for the cars that we took out of the race. It’s just a shame, I made the same mistakes here in the spring and this place has just been tough to me. Fortunately we had a fast 5-hour ENERGY Camry and it was up front, we had worked our way back up to that point after having mishaps at the start of the day. Nonetheless, not the ending that we wanted, but hopefully we can come back a little stronger for Martinsville.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 36th: “You have to thank NASCAR very much for all the work that they do on these race cars to make them very safe because I got hit from everywhere and I hit the 77 (Erik Jones) very, very hard. I’m perfect – the car’s not, but I’m good. Honestly, I don’t really know what happened. I just know that the 77 got very loose somehow and the next thing I saw was his door and my nose. I really couldn’t do anything at that point, but I haven’t seen a replay yet.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 37th: “I don’t know what any of the rules are. Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it, to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed. We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win. … Honestly, I’ve never heard of disqualifying somebody from a race if you got one too many guys over the wall or whatever happened there. Couldn’t be any more disappointed.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 38th: “I came out and said, ‘I got a turkey,’ three in a row. That is some bad luck. The Code 3 car had just started to get better, just starting to get hooked up, actually. I actually felt like I was catching the right lanes and right movements on the track and having good restarts. Would have been nice to finish one off. We haven’t done that in awhile.

Kyle Larson — Finished 39th: “I guess, I’m not stunned because freak things happen in every sport.  I mean you look at every year in the past and a lot of times – most every time at least in the new playoff format era – not always does the best team win. Not saying we are the best team, but we have been one of the contenders all season long. So, I’m not stunned, because it is a long 10 race playoff season, so anything can happen, but we have had a solid playoffs.  We have been consistent and just now got bit. … (On winning 4 races and gets eliminated) It’s painful. A part of me, I guess, will maybe be thankful that it wasn’t on my doing. I keep saying everything sucks. I don’t really know how to answer these because it’s the same answer for every question.”

Jimmie Johnson survives multiple accidents to advance in playoffs

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Jimmie Johnson‘s championship hopes were in peril on Lap 197 of Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

They were saved on Lap 198 by a 14-car crash that Johnson narrowly made it through.

Johnson, who finished 11th in the playoff elimination race, had come off consecutive spins on Laps 189 and 194 and trips to pit road for repairs when the wreck broke out on restart following his second spin. The first spin had sent his No. 48 Chevrolet sliding through the rain-soaked grass in the infield.

“The car was extremely loose,” Johnson told NBCSN. “We fought the balance throughout the day and the car would swing so hard. We were trying for short run speed to free the car up and we just got too far with it and I spun out twice. Thankfully I didn’t hit anything too hard.

“And when things really changed was down the back straightaway in that wreck. Somehow, I went through there at a high rate of speed and missed everybody. I don’t know how, but I made it. And then the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) car was sitting there and I thought I had him lined-up for a square impact, but fortunately he slid out of the way. … It wasn’t a pretty day, but we got it done.”

Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, had less kind words for his team’s day.

“We ran like (expletive),” Knaus told NBC Sports. “It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good racetracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We’ve obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Johnson is the active wins leader at Martinsville with nine. He is the defending winner of the fall race. It is his only top five in the last six races at the short track.

“It’s not a bad track for us,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it.”

Johnson is also the defending winner at Texas Motor Speedway, where he earned one of his three wins this year in April.

At Phoenix, Johnson has four wins, but the last one came in 2009. He also only has one top five there in his last six starts.

Johnson heads into the Round of 8 seeded fifth in the standings with 4,017 points.

“It’s not back to zero with all those stage points,” Johnson said. “For us to advance moving forward, we’ve got to win.  We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up.  It’s really simple from our standpoint.  We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

In his quest to win a record eighth Cup championship, Johnson has earned just four top fives this season. His third-place finish at Dover in the final race of the first playoff round is the only one since his June win also at Dover.

Johnson is the only driver who has won a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. He has four races left to continue the streak.