Jimmie Johnson has one last chance to make Cup playoffs

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DARLINGTON, S.C. —  Jimmie Johnson felt good about what ultimately was a bad night in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

The results showed that Johnson finished 16th — the seventh consecutive race he has failed to finish better than 15th. As a result, he remains outside a playoff spot heading into the Sept. 8 regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Johnson is 18 points behind Daniel Suarez for the final playoff spot. Suarez is tied with Ryan Newman but owns the tiebreaker over Newman with the best finish in a race this season.

Johnson, a seven-time series champion, has never missed the postseason since its debut in 2004.

MORE: Click here for points report

Johnson had a fast car all weekend — “They knew we were here,” he told his team on the radio — but it was undone when he was collected in a crash with about 90 laps left in the rain-delayed race that started after 10 p.m. ET Sunday and ended just before 2 a.m. Monday.

“I had at least 15 years with a lot of luck on my side, seven years of championships and having two or three bad ones is just part of it,” Johnson said. “I keep saying that we’re getting there, and tonight we showed it, from the way we qualified to how we ran on those stages. I was running fourth when that accident took place in Turn 3, and I just had nowhere to go.”

Johnson was collected when Daniel Hemric had a tire go down and hit the wall. Michael McDowell and Denny Hamlin also were involved, and Johnson could not avoid them, suffering left front damage.

Johnson continued and later found himself in a situation that moved him into the lead briefly.

When others began pitting early in what was the final pit cycle with about 45 laps left, crew chief Cliff Daniels kept Johnson out, hoping a caution would put them back into contention. Johnson led laps 324-326 in the 367-lap race before he was the last driver to pit under green.

“Had we done it all over again, we would have done the exact same thing again,” Daniels told NBC Sports of the pit call. “It is Darlington, and so many times you see guys spin out getting to pit road, guys blowing a tire late in a run, things like that. Caution comes out at that point, you’re almost a hero.

“There may have been only one or two cars that would have stayed out, otherwise, it is Darlington so everyone would have come to take four, and now you have track position again with a beat-up car. It’s not like we ran an extra 10 laps based on what those guys did and just tanked. We ran five extra laps. It just didn’t work out. That’s the strategy we had talked about leading up to that point, so it was kind of a calculated move. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not work, and we may have lost one or two points because of it but on the flip side that it worked out, you stand to gain a lot.”

NASCAR mourns Kobe Bryant

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Joining their brethren in other sports, the NASCAR world took to social media upon learning the tragic news of the death of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Bryant had met a number of NASCAR drivers in his career, including Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. They were among a number of NASCAR notables who took to social media to mourn Bryant:

 

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Chad Knaus and wife expecting second child

Photo courtesy Brooke Knaus official Instagram account
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Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion crew chief Chad Knaus and wife Brooke are expecting their second child.

Brooke made the announcement Saturday on her Instagram account.

The couple, already parents to one-year-old son Kip, will soon be adding a daughter to their growing family.

Brooke Knaus’s Instagram post said the baby is due in July.

Kip figured prominently in the baby revelation, coming at the end of mom and dad’s ski run while vacationing in Telluride, Colorado:

 

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Kyle Larson flips, misses finals of Australia’s biggest sprint car race

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Kyle Larson’s hope of following up last week’s Chili Bowl win with a triumph in Australia’s prestigious Grand Annual Sprint Car Classic fell far short Sunday.

Larson’s bid to race his way into the 24-car finals of the three-day race at Premier Speedway in Warrnambool, Australia, ended when he flipped (uninjured) on the opening lap of a last-chance qualifying heat race earlier in the evening.

Instead of being one of the featured drivers in the Classic’s 40-lap finale – the largest and most popular sprint car race of the year in the land down under – Larson was left to watch the event from the pits and cheer on Dyson Motorsport teammate and fellow American Carson Macedo.

Even that didn’t go very well, as Macedo flipped his own sprint car on the first lap of the Classic, resulting in a last-place finish. The highest finishing American was Cory Eliason, who ended up fourth.

Meanwhile, it was an all-Australian podium, with James McFadden winning the Classic for the second time in his career, followed by James Veal and Kerry Madsen.

In eight days, Larson went from capturing what he called the biggest win ever of his racing career on all levels – the Chili Bowl in his 13th try last Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma – to nothing but bad luck and utter frustration throughout his Australian journey.

Larson’s first race on Wednesday in the King’s Challenge at Borderline Speedway was rained out.

Then, in the first night of the Classic on Friday, Larson wrecked heavily in his first heat race, including flipping (he was uninjured). After his team repaired his car, Larson went back on the track, only to suffer a blown engine that knocked him out of contention to race in that evening’s feature event.

After not being on the schedule to race in Night 2 of the Classic on Saturday, Larson had one last chance to make Sunday’s featured championship event.

A total of 80 drivers battled it out in the B, C and D Mains for the eight remaining spots in the A Main, but Larson would end up not being one of those — as can be seen in the second line of the following tweet by his team:

Larson now returns to the United States to prepare for the Daytona 500 on February 16.

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Kyle Busch feeling like ‘the new guy’ during his Rolex 24 debut at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch was looking forward to his first stint at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The two-time Cup champion was less enthused about his second turn behind the wheel in the IMSA season opener. Busch will climb back into the No. 14 Lexus RCF GT3 at 2 a.m. Sunday, just past the midpoint of the endurance race classic at Daytona International Speedway.

“That’s going to suck, yeah,” Busch deadpanned. “That’s exactly when I told them I did not want to run, and I got it.  Thank you very much.

“(I’m) the new guy.  I pulled the short straw.”

Click here to read more about how Busch felt about his AIM Vasser Sullivan car.