Is Texas the make-or-break race for Jimmie Johnson’s 8th championship hopes?

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With nine previous wins there, Jimmie Johnson came into Sunday’s race as the winningest active driver at Martinsville Speedway.

He failed to add to that total, finishing 12th on a day that saw him start at the back of the field due to a spin in qualifying, then quickly moved up into the top five by the end of Stage 1 thanks to pit strategy.

He eventually got to the front of the pack and led 24 laps before falling back to his eventual finish.

In the seven seasons Johnson has won the NASCAR Cup championship, he’s won the fall race at Martinsville four times (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2016). In the other three championship years, he’s finished second (2009) and fifth (in both 2010 and 2013) at the .526-mile paperclip shaped track, the smallest in NASCAR.

But now with Sunday’s finish, Johnson finds himself in a situation he’s never been in his career: with two races remaining in the Round of 8 semifinal round at Texas and Phoenix, Johnson is below the cutoff line, sitting fifth in the standings.

He’s never been that low at this point of the playoffs – even before the elimination format came into being in 2014 – and still went on to win the championship.

Johnson is going for a record eighth championship, which would put him ahead of the seven Cup titles won by NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

But Johnson’s chances right now are questionable at best.

He’s 67 points behind series leader Martin Truex Jr., 50 points behind Martinsville winner Kyle Busch, 29 behind third-ranked Brad Keselowski, and three points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Johnson holds a three-point edge over sixth-ranked Ryan Blaney, a five-point margin over seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin, and leads eighth-ranked and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott by 23 points.

It’s kind of understandable that Johnson didn’t have much to say after Sunday’s race.

Perhaps part of the reason is he was involved in the last-lap multi-car wreck coming to the finish line that likely kept him from ending with a higher finish.

The other likely reason Johnson wasn’t as chatty as normal after a race is where he sits in the standings and the task he faces in the next two races if he hopes to reach Miami either with a win or via points.

“We were just terrible all day,” he said, shortly after being involved in the wreck. “Oh, what a bummer.

“We had high hopes for this weekend. Man, it just didn’t turn out so well. So, we scored some points here and there. We will go to the next one and try to get more.”

While Johnson can potentially still make it to Miami on points, it’s not going to be easy.

Yet at the same time, Johnson actually couldn’t be in a better position to reach Miami, even with his showing at Martinsville.

Texas Motor Speedway is Johnson’s fourth-most successful track when it comes to wins and overall success, with seven victories and 21 top-10 finishes in 28 career Cup starts there. That includes a win this spring there, as well as six wins in his last 10 starts on the 1.5-mile high-speed oval.

The only tracks he’s won more at are Dover (11 victories), Martinsville (nine) and Charlotte (eight).

Sure, he’ll have to contend at Texas with Martin Truex Jr., who has earned six of his seven wins in 2017 on 1.5-mile tracks, but Johnson definitely holds a decided edge over the seven other remaining playoff contenders heading to the Lone Star State.

And then there’s Johnson’s career record at Phoenix.

Sure, he’s won four times and had 20 top-10s in 28 career starts on the 1-mile oval. But there’s a caveat to that: his last win in the Valley of the Sun was the fall 2009 race.

And in his last six starts there, he’s managed just one top five (fall 2015) and one other top 10 (ninth in this year’s spring race).

So, it’s pretty clear that if Johnson is to make it to Miami and earn a record eighth championship, a win – or a top five at the very least – is almost mandatory at Texas.

Kevin Harvick penalized time in final Cup practice

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Title contender Kevin Harvick will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice because of inspection issues last weekend at Phoenix.

Harvick is the only one among the four title contenders who will miss practice time Saturday.

Final practice is from 1 – 1:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

David Starr is the only driver who missed time in Saturday’s first practice. He missed 15 minutes because his team was late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Jimmie Johnson, David Ragan and Michael McDowell will each miss 30 minutes of final practice because their cars failed qualifying inspection three times Friday.

Harvick, Chase Elliott, Cole Whitt and Starr each will miss 15 minutes of final practice because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s Phoenix race.

Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto each will miss 15 minutes of final practice because their cars failed inspection before qualifying twice Friday.

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Justin Allgaier ‘in the best place mentally’ a year after disappointing title finish

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The biggest disappointment of Justin Allgaier‘s NASCAR career has turned into “the best thing that’s ever happened” to it.

It only took “about a week” for the 31-year-old driver to accept that.

The JR Motorsports’ driver is one of the four competing for the Xfinity Series title in today’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It was in this race a year ago that Allgaier was within arm’s reach of a possible championship, his first in NASCAR.

But it was snatched away on the final restart.

With three laps to go, Allgaier restarted in the third row on the outside. In front of him was fellow championship driver Erik Jones. In front of Jones was Cole Whitt in a car normally found toward the back of the pack. Whitt had not pit under the caution because his team had used up its tire allotment.

Elliott Sadler (far right) and Daniel Suarez pull away on the final restart of last year’s Xfinity race at Homestead as Justin Allgaier (red car, middle) boxed in. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

At the green flag, Whitt spun his tires and backed-up the outside lane. That allowed Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez to get separation from Allgaier and Jones and race each other for the win and championship, which Suarez claimed.

“We’re sitting here and not standing on that (championship) stage over there like I think all of us would have liked to have been,” Allgaier said after he finished sixth.

Before Allgaier could come to terms with anything positive from the experience, he spent the following week just wanting to be left alone.

“If I could have locked myself in a dark room and not talk(ed) to anyone, I’d have been perfectly okay with that,” Allgaier said Thursday during the NASCAR championship media day in Miami Beach, Florida.

Allgaier got back in touch with those year-old feelings this week when he watched a replay of the race while flying to Florida.

“It still bugs me that we didn’t have a shot because of somebody else’s decision,” Allgaier said.

But Allgaier views the end of the 2016 race through a wiser lens. One where he accepts there’s only so much he can do in a 200-lap race against 39 other drivers.

“What if I had broken a transmission or run into the wall a little bit too hard on one of those times that I got (into) the wall like 37 times in the race last year and cut a tire?” Allgaier said. “What if a meteor fell out of the sky? … There’s so many things that, when you have 40 competitors on the racetrack every week, there’s so many things that can happen that are out of your control.”

His attitude has been helped by the best year of his career. Allgaier enters the championship race with a career-best two wins – including at his home track Chicagoland Speedway.

Allgaier also leads all Xfinity regulars with 497 laps led.

 “I look at 2017 as we have done everything we can do up to this point,” Allgaier said. “We’ve had the best race cars I’ve ever had. We’ve had great pit stops. We’ve got guys that work together on the race team that are incredible. I feel like for me personally I’m in the best shape of my life, on and off the track. I’m in the best place mentally.

“And at the end of the day, no matter what happens on Saturday night, I know that we have the best product on the racetrack and we’re in the best position we can be. And if it doesn’t work, it’s not because we weren’t in the right spot or because we didn’t do things right. It’s because circumstances are out of our control. And that’s taken so much pressure off of me this year.”

MORE: Previewing the Xfinity championship drivers

 

Goodyear signs extension with NASCAR

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — NASCAR announced Saturday a multi-year renewal with Goodyear for the company to be the series’ sole tire supplier. The deal goes through the 2022 season.

The move wasn’t in doubt with NASCAR and Goodyear having previously done tests for the 2018 season. Goodyear has been the exclusive tire supplier for all three of NASCAR’s top series since 1997. Goodyear has been a race tire supplier for NASCAR since 1954.

“We proudly join Goodyear in celebrating our renewed and longstanding partnership,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR president, in a statement. “For more than half a century, NASCAR and our teams have trusted Goodyear tires. Our partners’ commitment to innovation and excellence plays a key role in our unyielding pursuit to deliver the best racing product in the world.”

Goodyear’s current five-year deal was set to expire after this season.

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Today’s Xfinity race at Miami: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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The Xfinity season comes to an end this afternoon with the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and William Byron will race for title in the 200-lap race, which concludes the 33-race season that began in February at Daytona.

Below is all the vital info you need prior to the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Wild Bill Wichrowski from Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying is slated for 11:15 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is 12:45 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jacqie Rivers wil perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO:  Countdown to Green begins at 3 p.m. on NBCSN. NBCSN will air the race at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 3 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 79 degrees and a four percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Daniel Suarez won the race and clinched the series title, beating Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler. Suarez led 133 laps from the pole to become the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is scheduled for 11:15 a.m.