Jimmie Johnson buoyed by Darlington rebound

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Wednesday’s eighth-place finish at Darlington Raceway helped ease some of Jimmie Johnson’s lingering pain from last Sunday’s race.

Johnson crashed after just 89 laps in last Sunday’s race at Darlington – while leading, no less.

But Wednesday night’s top-10 finish – his third in the first six races of the season – put Johnson back on track heading into Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the followup race three days later, also at Charlotte.

“It was a solid night for the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet,” Johnson said of Wednesday’s finish at Darlington. “We had to start in the back because of the crash (Sunday).”

But starting one row (37th position) from the rear of Wednesday’s 39-car field didn’t hamper the seven-time Cup champion.

“Things were looking pretty good early, we were able to march up through there,” Johnson said

But Johnson’s timing was thrown off a few times by cautions that forced him to regroup and earn back ground he had already gained.

“The competition caution, and just so many cautions honestly, affected our strategy and affected us being able to take advantage of our strong racecar and move forward,” Johnson said. “Finally, in the middle of the race, we got some longer runs in and were able to move forward.”

Until bad timing from a caution reared its head once more, forcing Johnson to again regain real estate that the caution caused him to give up.

“We were in a nice position and then we were caught a lap down when the caution came out when (Matt Kenseth) car spun (lap 179) from his flat tire,” Johnson said. “So, we had to start all over again.”

Johnson was able to do just that.

“On that last restart, I think I was 14th,” he said. “Fortunately, I was in the outside line, which was the place to be, and we worked our way up to eighth before the caution happened and the rain came.”

The rain forced the race to be called 20 laps from its scheduled end, the win going to Denny Hamlin. While Johnson potentially could have finished in the top five if the race had gone its fully scheduled length, he’ll take where he wound up.

“It was a good rebound from a few days before; I wish I could have that weekend back,” Johnson said. “I really felt like we had things going our way there and could have capitalized. But it’s nice to be back. Good finish in the top-10.”

Next up is Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the longest and most grueling race of the season, followed by another Cup race at Charlotte on Wednesday.

Charlotte is the third-most successful track for Johnson in his Cup career: In 35 Cup starts, he has eight wins, 16 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes.

It would be a great place for Johnson to finally snap the 101-race winless streak he’s mired in, not having won since June 2017 at Dover.

Being able to stay home and do well at his adopted home track could go a long way toward helping Johnson return to victory lane.

“(I’m) looking forward to going to Charlotte,” he said.

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