‘Split-second’ gamble gives Jimmie Johnson third win of 2015


Jimmie Johnson drove through Turn 3 of Kansas Speedway during the final caution of Saturday’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 with less than 10 laps to go, looking in his rear-view mirror at the field behind and waiting to hear the voice of crew chief Chad Knaus.

“Sometimes you can tell what the masses are going to do, if they’re looking at pit road or not,” Johnson said. “Usually Chad gives me some indication early in Turn 3 what he’s going to do, and he didn’t really say much, so I knew he was thinking hard, and I could see most guys were favoring down and trying to find their way onto the apron.”

Finally, Knaus came over the radio and asked Johnson what he wanted to do.

“It just dawned on me,” Johnson said.

The No. 48 Lowes Chevy had won two races already and was locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Points didn’t matter.

The team could do something they weren’t used to through many of his 72 previous career wins.

“Man, I feel like gambling,” Johnson replied.

It was a “split-second decision” that kept his car on the track as all but four cars peeled off to pit road and led to career win No. 73.

“At that point I felt like I was pretty lonely and it wasn’t going to work out,” Johnson said. “(Dale Earnhardt Jr.) stayed and I think Chad was trying to be optimistic and fill me full of some sunshine, ‘oh, a few stayed out.’ I only saw one stay out. And then four lined up behind me.”

Those cars that did not pit were Earnhardt, the No. 41 of Kurt Busch and the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon.

“From our standpoint, we were in a unique situation because (Kevin Harvick) and (Martin Truex Jr.) were actually really close on fuel, we were not,” Knaus said. “We were well within our window. So we wanted to stay out.”

Johnson was fortunate not just to be in the position to gamble, but also to be in the race.

Knaus said they made a “significant amount of changes” to the No. 48, which started 19th and survived getting sideways on Lap 6 in Turn 3 as Johnson avoided wrecking into Earnhardt and an early exit. From there Knaus implemented changes to the ride height, chassis, air pressure, and of course, pit calls.

After the last green flag, the final six laps were a carbon copy of the race at Texas Motor Speedway in April. Johnson led the way as Harvick, with a better car on two fresh tires, wheeled his way into the top three to fight Earnhardt for a chance to challenge Johnson. Once Harvick got past Earnhardt, he went after Johnson, but as in Texas, ran out of time.

That left Johnson to run out of gas during his burnout and once in victory lane, awkwardly call his wife Chandra on Face Time in the early hours of Mother’s Day as he celebrated a Sprint Cup record 23rd win on 1.5-mile tracks.

“I thought my wife might have been asleep and then I caught her on Face Time in victory lane,” Johnson said. “She was not so happy to be on face time and other people looking in the phone.”

Despite not having the best car Saturday night, Johnson has claimed four wins in the last seven races at 1.5-mile tracks, with Harvick taking the other three. Now the series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track where Johnson, now third in points, has earned seven career wins in 27 starts.

“I feel like it’s weighted more towards the performance of the car than what the driver does,” Johnson said of Kansas Speedway, where he has three wins. “(At) Texas, Atlanta, some of the tracks where it’s more abrasive, I think it does back into the driver’s hands a little bit more, the way you drive the car, the way you work the tires, you can over abuse them, you can just run the tire off the car there and a lot of the responsibility falls on the driver.

“But on the big tracks, aero, balance, the engine performance, the small details that separate our team from others, that’s where you find that tenth of a second that puts you in the winner’s circle.”

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.