Ryan: Jimmie Johnson’s Chase exit stuns, stings in many ways

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DOVER, Del. – So this is how ignominiously the end can arrive for a six-time Sprint Cup champion.

With a whimper and a whiff of axle grease.

That was the cold truth for Jimmie Johnson on a blustery Sunday at Dover International Speedway, where his championship hopes wafted away in a puff of smoke at the track where he had enjoyed more triumph than anywhere in his illustrious NASCAR career.

“I worry about a flat, a pit call, hard racing,” Johnson said calmly while facing down a wave of cameras and recorders Sunday evening. “I don’t worry about an axle seal failing, and the rear end burning up. It’s just not on your radar.”

It will loom large in his rear-view mirror, though, as the unexpected death knell for the No. 1 seed of NASCAR’s 2015 postseason.

With a 41st-place finish, Johnson’s first-round elimination was the most stunning development of a race in which all of the focus had been centered on which of a trio of heavyweights – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. – would be knocked out of the playoffs before the 10-race title run hardly had begun.

Incredibly, Harvick, Busch and Earnhardt all advanced.

The only star eliminated Sunday was Johnson, who had entered the AAA 400 with a comfortable cushion on the Chase for the Sprint Cup cut line and surely the feeling that his team already had weathered all the adversity that can be expected from a three-race elimination round.

At Chicagoland Speedway, he escaped with an 11th after a dicey restart collision with Kevin Harvick led to the shove seen around the world.

At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he rallied for sixth after falling to a lap down in 30th because of a flat tire with 100 laps remaining.

Surely, he could breathe easy at Dover.

His 10 victories here rank first in the record book, and he hadn’t finished lower than 17th in 11 years at the concrete 1-mile oval.

All he needed to secure a berth in the second round, regardless of anyone else’s finish, was a 25th at Dover.

And after a summer slump in which he didn’t finish in the top five for six consecutive races, the first 100 laps of Sunday’s race seemed to indicate his team was continuing to turn a corner. After a Lap 42 penalty for speeding in the pits, Johnson quickly sliced through traffic and seemed headed for at least a top 10.

“We had a very, very fast race car,” he said. “The last three or four weeks, we’ve had very competitive cars. We’ve been moving forward.”

Until Lap 103, when his No. 48 Chevrolet started shaking violently as he exited the fourth turn.

The sickening, grinding sound of metal on metal filled the cockpit as the fluid drained from the right-rear hub, and the bottom literally dropped out on the bid for a seventh championship.

After a brief stop in the pits, Johnson hung a left at the end of the pits into the garage. He waited in his car as his Hendrick Motorsports crew hustled over for a repair job that took roughly 25 minutes and gave Johnson a lot of time to ponder the delicate harmonics behind the thousands of parts and pieces needed to keep an 800-horsepower stock car humming

“You just take things for granted,” said Johnson, who patiently answered every question for more than seven minutes with his typical class and diginity. “There’s so many parts and pieces on these cars, and we take for granted what they all do. It can’t be more than a $5 part that took us out.”

If there’s any consolation, it apparently has become something of a silent killer in NASCAR. Harvick’s team discovered their right-rear wheel and brakes covered in gear lube after an eighth at Martinsville in March, and crew chief Rodney Childers said it “scares me to death” to learn of Johnson’s misfortune because they use the same equipment as Hendrick.

“It’s one of the things that is the scariest of everything that race teams deal with,” Childers said. “You think that the race teams worry about engine trouble or things like that. But these axle seal problems, they happen all the time, and a lot of times you don’t hear about them.

“It’s something that all the teams have fought for a long time. We fought it earlier this year. We still change stuff on it. It seems like every week we’re looking at those things trying to figure out how to make them better. Those things are pretty dangerous.”

Yet the failure rate is relatively rare. Johnson lost an axle seal in practice earlier this year but estimated it had happened to his team perhaps five times in the past 14 seasons.

“It’s a really vulnerable and simple piece,” he said. “We’re always very cautious with axles coming in and out of the car.

“We pride ourselves on no mechanical (failures). Stuff doesn’t fall off our race cars. Our cars don’t break. This stings for sure.”

It’s a sting that will last much longer than the faulty part that caused it.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told Frontstretch.com: “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.