Jimmie Johnson faces last chance to make title round

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AVONDALE, Arizona — Jimmie Johnson says that even with the struggles this season he wants to finish his career with Chad Knaus as his crew chief.

The duo has worked together since Johnson’s rookie season in 2002 and won seven Cup titles together, including last year’s crown.

To have a chance at a record eighth title next week in Miami, Johnson needs to wins Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. He enters last among the eight title contenders, 51 points out of the final transfer spot.

Johnson said Friday that this season has been as challenging to him as 2015, a year he won five races but finished 10th in the points. Johnson was eliminated from title contention in the opening round of the playoffs that season.

“That was a tough one on us as well with that rules package and trying to get speed out of our cars,’’ Johnson said of the 2015 season. “So, I’d say between ’15 and ’17, those have probably been the two most challenging years in my career at the Cup level.”

Johnson has three victories this season but all came in the first 13 races. Since his win at Dover in June, Johnson has one top-five finish and six top-10 results in 21 races.

At the end of the day chasing speed is really the culprit,’’ said Johnson, who ranks 12th in laps led this year and has led in only two of the last 17 races. “And I feel that next year we’ll be in a much better position with the Camaro body on the race car. So, you start making decisions late spring and early summer, trying to extract speed out of the cars. And that doesn’t always make them comfortable to drive. So, it’s hard to say it’s just one thing, but the start of the process is just trying to make our cars faster. And, at times we’ve not made the best decisions and have made them very hard to drive. I think Texas was an example of that and also Kansas. We spun twice there. So, it’s just trying to make the cars faster.”

Friday, Johnson reaffirmed his support of Knaus.

“I started this with Chad and I want to finish it with him,” Johnson said.  “Outside of something crazy happening. Crew chiefs live in dog years versus drivers. I think he’s made that known that his time might expire before mine does, just because of the wear and tear of being a crew chief.’’

Johnson signed a three-year contract extension in June that will take him through 2020. Knaus’ contract goes through the 2018 season.

Although Johnson is in a must-win situation, it’s how he has felt this entire round, which included races at Martinsville and Texas.

“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to step-up and win at Martinsville or at Texas, so now it continues,’’ he said. “We’re here and we must win.”

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Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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Clint Bowyer leads opening Cup practice at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer was the fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer, the winner of the most recent Cup race two weeks ago at Michigan, posted a lap of 93.590 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (93.546 mph), Joey Logano (93.172), Jamie McMurray (93.049) and Daniel Suarez (92.746).

Sixth was Jimmie Johnson (92.661). He was followed by Michael McDowell (92.650), Martin Truex Jr. (92.614), AJ Allmendinger (92.596) and Ryan Newman (92.595).

Click here for full practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 5:40 – 6:55 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place Saturday.

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Kyle Larson: ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing’

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Kyle Larson‘s comment on Twitter earlier this week that he would like to run full-time in the World of Outlaws sprint car series “before I’m 40” might have riled some fans, but Larson says it was not meant as anything bad toward NASCAR.

“I don’t know, I think maybe some people aren’t quite as open-minded, maybe,” the 26-year-old Larson said Friday at Sonoma Raceway. “It’s like they read it as if I said in two years from now I wanted to do it. I mean 15 years from now that would put me 20 years in Cup. So, that is a long time. 

“I think Jeff Gordon spent about that much time in the sport (Gordon raced in Cup 23 full-time seasons), but I don’t know, maybe I don’t do the best job in the world of talking about how much I love NASCAR as much as I do sprint cars, but I do. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing.

“I enjoy sprint cars, and I feel like I talk about sprint cars a lot just to open people’s eyes to that style of racing because it’s a great form or racing and so is NASCAR. So, I don’t know, I just want fans to be fans of motorsports not just NASCAR and not just sprint cars. I would like to see everybody just enjoy all of racing and I think that is what I do. Maybe I don’t do a good job at it sometimes, but you know, I enjoy racing all types of vehicles. Most fans get it, but some fans aren’t quite open-minded enough.”

It was on the official World of Outlaws podcast in December where Larson expressed his desire to eventually transition to the World of Outlaws.

“NASCAR is where I wanted to make it, but I would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t make it either,” Larson said on that podcast in the offseason. “I’d probably be on the Outlaw (sprint car) tour probably right now, racing and loving life … I would say racing on the World of Outlaws tour full-time is my main goal.”

Larson just finished running five nights of Ohio Sprint Speedweek. He won two of those nights. Rain postponed a sixth event before the feature that Larson was to have run. Larson said he has the dirt track race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on his schedule. Indianapolis is building a quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to run during the NASCAR weekend there in September.

Larson is in his fifth full Cup season. He has five career series wins. Although winless this season, Larson has finished runner-up three times (Auto Club Speedway, Bristol and Pocono).

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Four Cup cars to be docked practice time at Sonoma

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Four cars will miss time in today’s opening practice at Sonoma Raceway for violations, NASCAR announced Friday.

David Ragan will miss 30 minutes for failing inspection before the race at Michigan three times.

Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne each will be docked 15 minutes for failing inspection twice before the Michigan race.

Today’s opening Cup practice goes from 2:40 – 3:55 p.m. ET.

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