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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.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I honestly welcome the challenge’ of playoff format

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No matter the playoff format that’s been thrown at Jimmie Johnson, his No. 48 team has bested them, earning seven Cup championships.

This is the first year that the elimination format has included the stage format in races and Johnson said on NBCSN’s “Countdown to Green” that “I honestly welcome the challenge” of it.

The challenge for Johnson Sunday at Kansas Speedway is to stay on the positive side of the cutoff line. He sits in the final transfer spot, seven points above Kyle Busch. Four drivers will be eliminated from contention following the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCN).

“I’m in a position where I have to win, I think, going forward,” Johnson said. “I’m going to regret not being at the front at the start of races to collect those first stage points or the second stage as often as we should have. I honestly welcome the challenge.”

Added Johnson: “This might not be our best year with this format, but give us a little time and we’ll sort it out.”

Watch the above video for the full interview, including Johnson talking about meting the family of a fan who was killed in a car accident.

 

T.J. Majors leaving Hendrick Motorsports as No. 88 spotter at season’s end

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T.J. Majors announced on Twitter Monday that this will be his last season with Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 88 NASCAR Cup team.

Majors serves as the spotter for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is also in his final season driving in Cup.

“I would like to thank Mr. Hendrick and everyone at the organization for an incredible 10+ years that have provided me countless friendships and memories that I will forever be grateful for.”

Majors also serves as spotter for Justin Allgaier’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, as well as the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford driven by Chase Briscoe.

Majors did not announce what he’ll be doing after leaving HMS.

Here’s what Majors tweeted:

UPDATE: Monday on his podcast “Door, Bumper, Clear,” Majors announced he will spot for Joey Logano in 2018.

“They’ve been great to me, I look forward to it,” Majors said. “Going to be teammates with Brad (Keselowski). Obviously, Brad’s one of my best friends. … Joey Logano’s been great. I like him, he’s really a good guy. I know people boo him and stuff for racing hard. But I like how Joey drives. He’s aggressive. He knows what he needs to do.”

In a related move, Alex Bowman, who will replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 next season, announced on Twitter his spotter for the 2018 Cup season will be Kevin Hamlin.

 

Kyle Larson understands Chase Elliott’s struggle to get first Cup win

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Kyle Larson has been in Chase Elliott‘s shoes.

Not too long ago, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver went 98 starts in NASCAR’s premier series without a trip to victory lane.

Then came start No. 99.

In August 2016 at Michigan International Speedway, a late restart with eight laps to go saw Larson get the jump on Elliott. Larson wound up celebrating with his steering wheel thrust out the window and Elliott was left lamenting, “I hate to let my guys down like that.”

It has become a common refrain from the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

More than a year later, Larson now has five Cup wins. After a crushing second-place finish to Kyle Busch last week at Dover, Elliott sits at 70 Cup starts and zero wins.

“(Elliott) has probably ran second as many times as I did before the first win and been close just as often as I have, maybe even in some cases more often,” Larson said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Larson finished second four times before his triumph. Elliott has had to settle for second five times. Two of those have been to Larson at Michigan.

“I put myself in a lot of positions to win throughout the first two-and-a-half years of my NASCAR career and I seem to kind of choke, I guess, late in the races,” Larson said. “But in each of those losses I had, I learned something from each of them and I became calmer at each of them.”

For Elliott, who is in the second round of the Cup playoffs, there’s far less, “I hate to let my guys down like that.”

The second-year driver is shouldering more of the responsibility.

“I appreciate my team and their efforts today,” Elliott said on Sunday. “The pit stops were great and they kept us in the ballgame. I didn’t.”

Larson has noticed the change.

“He seems extremely mature so I’m sure he’s dealing with it fine,” Larson said. “So far this year, he has dealt with all the close finishes way better than he had last year. I think that is a case of him learning from each of those losses and just becoming calmer and more mature. He will win, and when he wins one, he is going to win a lot, similar to kind of what I did this year.”

But before the start of the playoffs, Elliott disagreed with the notion that his reaction to close losses has “evolved.”

“The circumstances have been different,” Elliott said the week before the playoff opener and an encumbered second-place finish. “When a race didn’t end the way that I wanted it to end because it’s something that I did, I’m going to take a lot of blame, I’m just going to own up to my mistakes. I’m going to be frustrated with the fact that I know I didn’t do my job correctly. When it’s out of my hands, I can’t do anything about it, those are the days you just have to recognize I couldn’t do anything about it.

“But the ones that frustrate me the most are the ones I know I could have done something different to fix it.”

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Hendrick Motorsports unveils 2018 Camaro paint schemes — see them today in-person

Images courtesy Hendrick Motorsports official Twitter account
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If you’re in the Charlotte area today, you might want to stop over at Hendrick Motorsports to see the new 2018 paint schemes for the team’s four NASCAR Cup cars: the Nos. 48, 24, 9 and 88.

Not only are they brand new schemes, they’re on a brand new type of Chevrolet that will be used in the 2018 Cup season: the Chevy Camaro ZL1.

If you can’t make it today, last night’s reveal of the paint schemes was straight out of a Hollywood premiere, with lots of lights, flash and awesome designs. Check it out: