Jimmie Johnson was finally relevant on Sunday.
The seven-time Cup champion started 33rd in the Auto Club 400, but was able to do two things he hadn’t done through the first four races of the season.
He earned his first stage points of the year, finishing fifth in Stage 1 and seventh in Stage 2.
A six-time winner at Auto Club Speedway, Johnson also earned his first top 10 of the season. His ninth-place finish snapped a career-worst streak without a top 10 at 10 races.
His last top 10 was October at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Johnson’s career-worst streak of races without a win now stands at 28.
“Each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now, but we are seeing the improvements, we have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better and we are getting more competitive. So, a strong day for the Lowe’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We are not where we want to be but we are getting closer every week.”
Johnson and his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates had to overcome starting from the rear Sunday.
All four cars were among 13 that failed to get through qualifying inspection on Friday, preventing them from making a qualifying attempt.
Chase Elliott finished 16th, his worst result this year not related to a DNF for a crash.
Alex Bowman finished 13th, tying his best result of the season.
William Byron placed 15th.
Bowman and Byron remain without top-10 finishes this season.
LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading the field with a lap of 132.942 mph.
He was followed by Ryan Blaney (132.526 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (132.462), Kyle Busch (132.406) and Kevin Harvick (132.356).
Harvick ran the most laps at 50. Harvick told NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Rick Allen in the garage that he ran so many laps to see how much the speed falls off as the tires wear. Jimmie Johnson was next with 42 laps run.
There were no incidents in the 50-minute session.
Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average at 131.767 mph.
Click here for the speed chart.
LOUDON, N.H. – The start time for Sunday’s Cup race has been moved up to 1 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain, NASCAR announced.
NBCSN will broadcast the race. NBCSN’s coverage begins at noon ET.
The wunderground.com forecast for 1 p.m. ET Sunday calls for a 49 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. There is a threat of rain throughout the day.
Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race.
LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne each will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues, NASCAR announced.
Hamlin is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice last weekend at Kentucky. Kahne is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice Friday at New Hampshire.
Final practice is scheduled to go from 12:35 – 1:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Today’s schedule at New Hampshire Motor Speedway includes two Cup practice sessions and the Xfinity Series race at the “Magic Mile.”
Here’s the full schedule with TV and radio info.
(All times are Eastern)
Saturday, July 21
7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens
8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. — Cup garage open
10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (CNBC)
11:05 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (CNBC)
12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (NBCSN)
1:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting
3:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions
4 p.m. — Lakes Region 200 Xfinity race; 200 laps/211.6 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)