Jimmie Johnson

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The start of NASCAR’s three race stint, known as the “West Coast Swing,” began with a quick start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Last week’s winner Kevin Harvick picked up where he left off, while another champion struggled before the green flag even dropped.

This week’s Top 5 dominated, rebounded, and maintained consistency for finishes of 12th or better.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford team did a complete 180 from one year ago, when a crash was the result of finishing 38th out of 39 cars.

Harvick continued his dominance in Las Vegas to earn his second win this season, leading a stellar 214 of 267 laps – the most by any driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick took the lead from polesitter Ryan Blaney on Lap 2 of the Pennzoil 400, and soon began to lap the field. Harvick put half the field at least one lap down before the end of Stage 1.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his 100th career victory through NASCAR’s three national series, crossing the finish line 2.906 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch and 13 seconds ahead of third place finisher Kyle Larson.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson started in the back on Sunday after failing pre-race inspection three times. The Hendrick Motorsports driver remained focused and determined, gaining nine spots in the first stage while fighting with handling issues.

After putting fresh tires on before the start of Stage 2, Johnson continued toward the front. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished in the 20th position at the end of the second stage, two laps behind leader Harvick.

Johnson rebounded to earn a 12th place finish, his first top-15 of the season after crashes at Daytona and Atlanta resulted in finishes of 27th or worse.

Johnson sits 29th in the standings after three races. Will more improvements continue for Johnson? A top-10 at ISM Raceway would be just what he needs going forward, a top-5 could put Johnson on a steady pace back into familiar territory.

No. 3 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finds himself among the most improved after a second-place finish, a gain of 20 positions from last season.

Busch’s day in Sin City was much quieter than in 2017, when he confronted Team Penske’s Joey Logano on pit road post-race.

Busch led twice for a total of ten laps. He sits fifth in the standings, along with Kyle Larson, 31 points behind Harvick, who is the new points leader.

No. 4 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 of the season at Las Vegas, finishing in the ninth position.

Menard’s stats through three races have steadily improved from years past.

The last time the Wood Brothers Racing driver scored two top 10s within the first three races was in 2012, when he finished sixth in the Daytona 500, and seventh two week’s later in Vegas.

Menard sits ninth in the standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues on the West Coast Swing to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday, March 11th.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones has a lot that he could be happy about heading into this weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is coming off his first top-10 of the season, after finishing 11th at Atlanta and in the 36th position at Daytona.

The 21-year-old has made consistent improvements since the season opener and is headed to the very same track where his No. 20 Toyota sat in Victory Lane last November with Matt Kenseth.

Can Jones earn his first MENCS victory and secure his way into the playoffs with an early victory? If the JGR driver builds on his performance, we could see the young star in victory lane sooner rather than later.



Jimmie Johnson captures Texas Victory

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Photo by: Sarah Crabill

If there were any doubts about Jimmie Johnson’s winning ways before the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, they were put to rest at Texas Motor Speedway.

Johnson earned his first win of the 2017 season after starting from the back. A spin in qualifying caused the Lowe’s Chevrolet team to change tires before making his 550th career start.

“I guess I remembered how to drive, and I guess this team remembered how to do it,” Johnson said. “I’m just real proud of this team. What a tough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse and we were just able to execute all day.”

Johnson led twice for a total of 18 laps toward the 81st victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. Johnson retook the lead on Lap 318 after a debris caution allowed for the No. 22 of Joey Logano to gamble.

Sunday’s race at Texas was the first since the repavement and reconfiguration that lowered the banking of the 1.5-mile track by four degrees.

Ryan Blaney finished 12th after a dominating performance that scored him two stage wins, but a mistake by the Wood Brothers Racing driver on pit road sent him rallying for positions.

“Not a bad day for us,” Blaney said, “It’s nice to win a couple segments, but I want to lead the last lap. That’s the lap I care about, but I thought we made a big gain today as a team.”

Blaney led a career-high of 148 laps before sliding through his pit box on Lap 301.

Kyle Larson extended the standings lead after a second place finish. Logano and Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first top-5 finish of the year.

NASCAR returns to Bristol on April 23rd on FOX.


Jimmie Johnson avoids trouble at Charlotte

Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

In a race in which the Chase drivers were inflicted by numerous setbacks throughout the Bank of America 500, Jimmie Johnson avoided disaster to earn his third win of the 2016 season at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson showed that his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet remain a contender in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, leading 155 laps toward the 78th victory of his career and the eight at this racetrack.

“We’re a brotherhood on this No. 48 team, and just so thankful for the friendship and the hard work. Same thing for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We’re really going to enjoy this.”

The hard work has landed them a Chase berth inside the Round of 8 for the first time since the playoff system was put in place in 2014.

“That is massive,” Johnson said, “I’m so happy about that. So happy to be in Victory Lane with (crew chief, Chad Knaus) this guy.”

Johnson’s win gives him a chance to continue to compete for a record-tying seventh career championship, one that did not seem within reach throughout the summer.

“We can’t sit back and celebrate too much on this,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to buckle down and get to work and keep advancing our race cars. But this does buy us a couple weeks of freedom.”

Johnson and his team may have found their breakthrough, but many teams weren’t so lucky. Five of the Chase contenders finished 30th or worse in the opening race of the second round in the Chase.

Joey Logano finished 36th after heavy damage from wall contact sent him to the garage for repairs, while Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin encountered engine trouble halted their race for good finishes.

Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were caught up in a 12-car pile-up after the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr tapped the No. 3 Chevrolet, who gained track position after taking two tires, on the restart.

Elliott tried to make it through, but unavoidable contact with Kyle Busch resulted in him being turned into the outside wall.

Dillon and Elliott finished 32nd and 33rd, respectively.

Catch Elliott as he searches for redemption, and his first Sprint Cup victory, on October 16th at Kansas Speedway at 2:15 PM/ET on NBC.