Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Martin Truex Jr. leads final Cup practice at New Hampshire

Leave a comment

LOUDON, New Hampshire — Martin Truex Jr. posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice after sitting out the first 30 minutes of the 50-minute session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Truex led the way with a lap of 131.647 mph.

He was followed by Kevin Harvick (131.633 mph), Kyle Busch (131.515), Daniel Suarez (131.506) and Kyle Larson (131.497).

After Larson was Ryan Blaney (131.302), Jimmie Johnson (131.121), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (131.112), Denny Hamlin (131.026) and Clint Bowyer (131.008).

Among the cars held during final Cup practice. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Click here for practice report

Ryan Blaney had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 130.937 mph. He was followed by Harvick (130.867 mph) and Truex (130.811).

Ty Dillon went to a backup car after contact with the wall during the session.

Joey Logano was among 14 drivers who were penalized practice time. He was the only driver forced to miss the entire session because his car failed to pass qualifying inspection Friday. The team failed to get through four times and never made a qualifying attempt.

 and on Facebook

Long: Time for NASCAR to regulate victory burnouts? What’s the fun in that?

2 Comments

LOUDON, New Hampshire — Strip away the debate, peel away the nuances and look not at NASCAR but yourself.

Can you enjoy watching someone smoke the tires after winning a race, or must you see tires blow, thus damage the car and possibly hinder officials in inspecting the vehicle afterward?

Denny Hamlin knows how many of you will vote. He’s seen your reaction when he’s done burnouts down the frontstretch like he did in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — site of Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He blew a left rear tire in that celebration.

“The moment that the tires pop … that’s the moment the fans get excited,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after qualifying Friday.

Is that what it comes down to for you? After half a day at the track and three hours of racing, one of the key moments of your trip is seeing someone blow a tire in their victory burnout?

If it’s that important to see those tires blow, then are you OK that it could allow a car to skate the rules?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR should regulate those celebrations because they’re as nefarious as they are exhilarating.

“I’ve been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to say, “Look we’d just rather you guys not blow the tires out,’ ‘’ Earnhardt said Friday. “They talk about not being the fun police. Being the fun police is not on the radar of their damn problems. I don’t think they need to worry about it. That’s a cop-out in my opinion.’’

Why?

“I just feel like that they should step up,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re the governing body. It’s obvious (blowing tires) is done intentionally.’’

Earnhardt said that the penalty to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and Elliott’s team for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties was too severe compared to drivers who are not penalized for damaging their cars in victory celebrations.

“(Elliott’s team) is going to get a suspended crew chief and car chief for this tape mess and the winner of the race (Martin Truex Jr.) was riding into victory lane with a damn rear tore all to hell,’’ Earnhardt said of last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway “Can’t even tech it. I love Martin. It ain’t about Martin. Every guy out there has done it.’’

Truex says he did nothing wrong when he blew a rear tire in his celebration at Chicagoland. He was overjoyed after coming back from a speeding penalty and having to pit a second time under caution for loose lug nuts to win. So, yes he had a robust celebration.

“It was definitely not something that was on purpose or somebody told me to do it,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It was just caught up in the moment. The burnout was pretty nice. Maybe it went on a little longer than it should have. In that case, there’s no rules against it. Nobody said you can’t do it. If there was obviously a rule against it, then we would probably not do it anymore.

“People are just reaching for unicorns at this point and trying to figure out why we’re so fast. They can say what they want. We’ve not had any inspection issues (after a race). We’ve been to the R&D Center probably more than everybody this year.’’

Section 8.5.2.1.c of the Cup Rule Book allows burnouts, stating: “The first place vehicle may engage in appropriate celebratory activity (such as a victory lap, burn-out(s) or donuts) prior to reporting to victory lane.’’

The key word in that rule is “appropriate.”

This isn’t the first time victory celebrations have been debated. It has become as regular as shorter days and birds flying south in autumn.

Excessive victory celebrations was a topic during the playoffs in Oct. 2015 after Kevin Harvick’s car appeared to hit the inside wall while he did a donut after winning at Dover. His car passed inspection after the race.

Last year, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, hinted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials could address victory celebrations. His comments came two days after Hamlin had to walk to victory lane at Watkins Glen after his celebration. Hamlin’s car passed inspection.

“We hear the same thing from them all the time,’’ Hamlin said, recalling the last time NASCAR commented publicly on the issue. “Until they really do something, people are going to do the same things.’’

Still, shouldn’t there be a line on what is allowed and what isn’t? Why give drivers the chance to damage their car before going through inspection after the race?

NASCAR has docked teams practice time for swerving after a race to ensure they make it through inspection. Those weren’t winning cars. So, should the benefit of winning be that as long as the driver gives fans one last thrill show, they’re given more leeway in possibly damaging or resetting their car?

If NASCAR penalizes teams for celebrations, it likely will take away some of the emotion the sport wants to display, particularly at the end of the race. Few want to see a winner treat a victory nonchalantly. Such achievements are difficult and are worth reveling in.

“The hard part of judging that is that sometimes, when it’s a big enough win and you’re celebrating the heck out of it, it’s hard to make that call between a celebration and trying to get through tech after the race,’’ Austin Dillon told NBC Sports.

Dillon, who scored his first Cup win this year, isn’t sure he likes the idea of NASCAR constraining a celebration.

“I’ve been really excited and blew the tires off it when I won my first couple of races,’’ he said. “When you win more than that, the issue with me is I want to take that clean car and race it again.

“Blowing the wheel tubs out of it, I’m probably going to do it if everybody else is doing it, if it helps getting through tech. The bad part about it is it kind of looks bad on the money side of things when you’re tearing cars up and they’re crying we don’t have any money.’’

By not doing anything, is NASCAR inhibiting its ability to properly inspect cars afterward, assuring a level playing field among competitors?

It’s not like ‘Oh, my bad, blew my tire.’ I mean it’s deliberate,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, it tells me there’s some purpose behind it. It just upset me with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on when all this is sort of going on right under everybody’s nose. It doesn’t make sense.”

 and on Facebook

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading to New Hampshire

Leave a comment

One race down, nine to go to crown a champion. That’s where the NASCAR Cup playoffs stand heading into this weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Following the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, four drivers below the cutoff line – Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman – have races at New Hampshire and Dover to bounce back.

Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner. Matt Kenseth has won three of the last eight races at the 1.058-mile flat track. Denny Hamlin is a two-time winner there, including this past July.

Courtesy of Racing Insights, here’s this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not:

Cup – Who Is Hot

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Won at Chicago after a speeding penalty and loose lugs
  • Finished in the top 10 a series-high 18 times
  • Won a series-high 18 stages
  • 58 Playoff Points includes 15 points for clinching the regular season
  • Five wins this season, most of all drivers and personal best
  • Led a series-high 1,723 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races
  • Started top three and led over 100 laps in the last three New Hampshire races
  • Won the pole finished third at New Hampshire in July

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 15th at Chicago, broke a streak of six straight top 10 finishes
  • Sat on the pole at Chicago by nearly three tenths of a second
  • Loose wheel and speeding penalty then lack of cautions caused his 15th-place finish at Chicago
  • Two wins this season (Pocono and Bristol)
  • Two NH wins, last was summer of 2015
  • Finished 12th at NH in July after leading 95 laps, speeding penalty
  • Finished top 10 in seven of the last nine NH races

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot, Good at NH)

  • Finished fourth at Chicago, fourth straight top-five finish
  • Top-five finishes in 10 of the last 13 races including two wins
  • Won at NH in July, third NH win (won in a backup car due to a practice crash)
  • Finished top two in nearly a third of his NH starts (7 of 23 or 30 percent)

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot, good at NH)

  • Finished third at Chicago, first top-five finish in the last six races, led 59 laps, his most since Texas in April
  • Four fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year
  • Two NH wins, including this race last year, led only eight laps
  • Top five finishes in five of the last six NH races including fifth in July

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (All about the wins)

  • 8th at Richmond and Chicago, only the second time this season he has scored back-to-back top 10 finishes
  • Three top-five finishes this season, all wins
  • Three time NH winner but last was 2010
  • Has only led seven laps in the last 12 NH races
  • Finished 10th at NH in July after starting second

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky Hot)

  • Finished 9th at Chicago, seven top-10 finishes in the last nine races, all but Michigan, flat tire in OT while running third and an ambulance problem at Richmond
  • Three NH wins, all in the last eight races
  • Finished top six with two wins in the last five races including fourth in July

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Warm, Good at NH)

  • Finished sixth at Chicago, first top 10 in the last six races
  • One NH win, summer 2014
  • Finished top 15 in the last 12 races at NH including ninth in July

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Good at NH)

  • Finished fifth at Chicago, never really a factor for the win
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • Finished second in seven races this year
  • Best finish at NH in seven races is runner-up twice, including July

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Pretty good lately, not so much at NH lately)

  • 23rd at Chicago, just did not run well, broke a four race top-10 streak
  • Three NH wins, last coming in 2011
  • Has led 722 laps at NH, but only two in the last 11 races
  • Finished 27th at NH in July
  • Seven top-five finishes at NH but only one in the last 12 races

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • 10th at Chicago, sixth straight top-15 finish
  • 14 top-10 finishes this season, five more than this point last year
  • Best NH finish is third in 2010
  • Finished 17th at NH in July, only three top-10 finishes in the last 13 races at NH

Cup – Who is Not:

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Not Lately)

  • Finished 11th at Chicago, third straight finish outside the top 10
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June
  • Nine top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races
  • Four NH starts, best finish of 11th in the summer of 2016, finished 19th in July

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Not, Mixed at NH)

  • Finished 19th at Chicago, broke a streak of three straight top five finishes
  • Speeding penalty at Chicago
  • Three-time NH winner, last time was 2008
  • Finished eighth at NH in July, only his third top-10 finish there in the last 12 races

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Has a win but is NOT HOT)

  • Finished 16th at Chicago, speeding penalty
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 10 at this point last year
  • Only top-10 finish in seven NH races was eighth in summer of 2015
  • Finished 15th at NH in July

No. 24 Chase Elliott (Starting to turn things back around)

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not, Not, Not)

  • Finished 21st at Chicago, only one top-10 finish in the last 17 races, win at Indy
  • Six DNFs accident this season
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it into a win
  • One NH win, summer 2012 (last win by HMS there)
  • Finished 28th at NH in July, it was his seventh finish outside the top 10 in the last nine NH races

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr (Has two wins this season)

  • 25th at Chicago , last top 10 was his win at Daytona in July
  • Zero wins in first 157 starts, two wins in last 18 starts
  • Two top-10 finishes in nine NH starts, best of ninth in 2014
  • Finished 14th at NH in July

Others:

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017)

  • Finished 13th at Chicago
  • Was 88 points out of a Playoff spot
  • Finished runner up three times in 2017
  • 10 top 10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016
  • Two-time winner at NH, finished seventh in July

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • Seventh at Chicago, finished top 10 in back-to-back races for the first time since April
  • 10 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 18 races
  • Won at Richmond but was encumbered after starting in the rear due to a transmission change
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske
  • Two-time NH winner
  • Finished 37th in July after a flat tire and suspension issues

No. 77 Erik Jones (Hot, ?? at NH)

  • Finished 33rd at Chicago, multiple issues, broke a streak of six straight top 10 finishes
  • Finished 39th at NH in July, accident after 40 laps, it was his first Cup start there

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (Not)

  • 17th at Chicago, last top 10 was Sonoma in June (sixth)
  • Only two top-10s in the last 15 races
  • Best NH finish is third in 2004
  • Finished 18th at NH in July, it was his first start there since 2015

Silly Season scorecard features many drivers still looking for rides

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Image
2 Comments

Kasey Kahne is off the job market after signing to drive next season with Leavine Family Racing. His arrival means that Michael McDowell, the current driver of the No. 95 car, will be gone after the season.

Leavine Family Racing, which has never won a Cup race, gets an 18-time Cup winner in Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 in July.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Kasey Kahne to join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Danica Patrick is out after this season at Stewart-Haas Racing. No replacement has been announced. 

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season.

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch told reporters Aug. 5 at Watkins Glen that “there are a couple of offers already, so we’ll see how things work out.’’  

— No. 43: Richard Petty Motorsports announced Sept. 12 that Aric Almirola will not return to the team. Smithfield also is not returning. Smithfield and Richard Petty Motorsports exchanged terse statements about their parting. RPM is selling Darrell Wallace Jr. to prospective sponsors.  

— No. 77: Furniture Row Racing has sold the charter to this team. Although the team is still looking for sponsorship for the team, Joe Garone, team president, said the chances of the organization running only one car next year is “high.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything announced for next year. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it.’’  

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Aric Almirola: Won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports, team announced Sept. 12.

Michael McDowell: Will not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Richard Petty Motorsports is selling Wallace to prospective sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. He gained interest from RPM after driving in four races for the team while Aric Almirola was injured.

 and on Facebook

Despite struggles, Jimmie Johnson still believes he can ‘come out on top’

1 Comment

JOLIET, Illinois — Jimmie Johnson is immortal.

And beatable.

Even if Johnson doesn’t win another Cup title, he will live in NASCAR history with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only seven-time champions. No active driver has more than one Cup crown, so Johnson will not be topped anytime soon, if ever.

“Thanks for blowing my mind,’’ he said.

(Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

Some day, a driver might wear a helmet that pays tribute to the future Hall of Famer, just as Johnson did last year in Homestead, honoring Petty and Earnhardt before winning the championship. Johnson saluted Cale Yarborough with a special helmet at Dover this season when he was one win short of tying his hero. Johnson won that race for career victory No. 83.

That was June 4.

The sport has moved forward as Johnson has fallen behind heading into today’s playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Since Johnson’s last win, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement was named, two drivers announced that their wives were pregnant and controversies erupted over merchandise sales, one team suspending pit crew members for another team and a wayward ambulance.

If ever there was a year to doubt Johnson’s title hopes, this would seem to be it.

Of course, it’s become cliché to note Johnson’s summer slump, people doubting him entering the playoffs and then Johnson raising the championship trophy after the season finale.

Should he lift the Monster Energy Cup over his head in November, it will be quite a triumph in more than one way. The 3-foot tall trophy weighs nearly 70 pounds — twice as much as the NHL’s Stanley Cup and 10 times as much as the NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy that goes to the Super Bowl winner.

But if Johnson raises the trophy, it also will mean he will have defeated 15 other drivers and truly stand alone in the sport.

June 4: Jimmie Johnson wins at Dover; Kyle Busch’s crew chief, front tire changer and tire carrier face a four-race suspension after a wheel comes off Busch’s car after a pit stop.

June 18: Joey and Brittany Logano announce that she is expecting the couple’s first child.

Johnson’s last Cup victory came 106 days ago.

To put it into perspective, Christmas is 100 days away.

Johnson’s average finish in the 10 races before the playoffs is 20.3 — his worst total since 2011 but not far off what he’s done in recent years.

His average finish in the 10 races before last year’s playoffs was 19.5 and he won the title. His average for those races was 18.3 before he won the 2013 title.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

It’s not just been him. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also have not had speed this summer. Elliott, Kahne and Johnson — Hendrick’s drivers in the playoffs — have combined for four top-10 finishes in the six races since Indianapolis.

“It’s been frustrating,’’ said Johnson, who starts today’s race 14th.

His wins early helped offset any frustration. Johnson’s three wins came in the season’s first 13 races.

“We won early, had good speed early, and in the back of my mind I was thinking that I hoped we were not peaking too soon,’’ Johnson said. “Then the summer happens. As you are in the middle of summer, the silver lining is that we are going to get through this eventually and come out on top. Maybe it is good to peak early, have the summer kind of challenge you, and then peak again.’’

July 3: Kyle Larson tweets about his dissatisfaction with what drivers make on merchandise sales, triggering a Twitter debate on the subject.

July 7: Matt Kenseth says he won’t return to Joe Gibbs Racing after this season

Johnson has made NASCAR’s postseason each of the 14 years and has won at least one playoff race every year entering this year.

He looks forward to the playoffs because the tracks match his style.

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Johnson is the all-time victory leader at Dover with 11. He’s tied for third all-time in wins at Martinsville with nine after his victory there in last year’s playoffs that advanced him to the championship finale in Miami. He is the all-time wins leader at Texas with six, which includes four consecutive victories in the playoff race there before Carl Edwards broke Johnson’s streak last year.

The one oddity to his playoff success is that Chicagoland Speedway is one of three tracks he’s never won at in Cup. This track, though, was the site of his lone Xfinity win. He scored a fuel-mileage victory in the track’s inaugural Xfinity race in 2001.

Even though he has not scored a Cup win at Chicagoland, Johnson notes that “the stats do show that we have a great average finish at Chicago.’’

His average finish is 9.5 — better than Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., and Earnhardt, who all have won at least once at Chicagoland.

July 11: Kevin and DeLana Harvick announce they are expecting their second child.

July 20: Alex Bowman selected to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 in 2018.

Kevin Harvick has a theory to Johnson’s playoff success after forgettable summers.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“Sometimes you get behind and you physically can’t prepare vehicles and make all the upgrades to the vehicles in time to put yourself in a position to run well from when you stopped running well, and it can happen instantly,’’ Harvick said. “Look at (Joey Logano). They had a scenario that they built the car around, whatever that scenario was, they built their car around and NASCAR didn’t like it, so they changed the rules and from that point on they were in a rebuilding phase to try to get themselves in position. 

“What you hope is you’re in a position like (Johnson) was, where they won a couple races and I think they were in a similar position where they had some rules change and they had some things happen and couldn’t run the stuff that they were running anymore. From that point, you have to start the rebuilding process and it’s a massive ship to turn around.’’

So, don’t read too much into those summer struggles by Johnson is what Harvick suggests.

It’s a good theory and Johnson’s success in past years, including last year when the team struggled in the summer before winning the title, shows what can happen.

July 27: Joe Gibbs Racing suspends two of its pit crew members who work for Furniture Row Racing for an incident on pit road with Kyle Busch’s crew chief at Indianapolis. JGR later cedes control of such employees to Furniture Row Racing.

Aug. 8: Kevin Harvick says on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of success stunted NASCAR’s growth.

A dominating regular season has put Martin Truex Jr. far enough ahead with playoff points that he should advance deep into the postseason and is a favorite to race for the title in Miami.

Despite his domination — four wins, 18 stage victories and a series-high 1,646 laps led — Truex is not discounting Johnson’s title hopes even with the reigning champ’s summer slumber.

“I don’t think our guard is down when it comes to any team, let alone them,’’ Truex said. “You have to look at them, what they’ve done, know they’re going to be around and they’re going to be tough.”

He’s not alone.

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Kyle Busch, also a favorite to be racing for the title in Miami, won’t overlook Johnson and his team.

“I’ve had friends over the years that have worked for Hendrick and have worked with the 48 team,’’ Busch said. “They always say, ‘Man, when Chicago comes … Jimmie’s got a switch that he flips on, and it’s on.’ So we’ll see if he can do it again. He has before, right? So don’t count him out.”

Aug. 19: Kyle Busch wins the Cup race at Bristol to compete a sweep of the Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup races there that weekend. It’s the second time he’s accomplished that feat.

Sept. 9: A wayward ambulance at Richmond briefly puts Matt Kenseth’s playoff hopes in jeopardy, one of a series of incidents that raised questions about NASCAR’s officiating.

Jimmie Johnson turns 42 today and while he’s not ready for retirement, he knows he’s moving closer to the end of his career and the end of his pursuit of eight titles. Or nine. Or 10.

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

“I am here for reasons of being successful,’’ Johnson said. “ Winning races and winning championships. So, every year that I extend and have agreed to, I am all in and here for one reason.  So that is more of it than thinking I might only have four chances left the way the contract lays out. It’s more about knowing what I can give and how demanding the sport is. And knowing what I can sign up for and really giving it 100 percent.”

 and on Facebook