Johnson hangs on for runner-up finish

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Jimmie Johnson didn’t have enough to take down Carl Edwards in the green-white-checkered finish today at Phoenix International Raceway, but he still sits atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings.

The five-time Cup champion followed up his Daytona 500 win last weekend with a second-place finish that saw him and Denny Hamlin go side-by-side to the checkered flag for the position; Johnson narrowly got the spot by 12 one-hundredths of a second but not before Hamlin had gone through the backstretch apron on the final lap to battle him and Brad Keselowski (who finished fourth).

“I thought we were going to enter three-wide and I was going to be in the worse spot,” Johnson said of the situation. “The clean line turns away from me, so I was looking out my window and I could see a lot of [Hamlin] and I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure really what’s gonna happen here — sure not gonna let off.'”

“[Keselowski] gave him some room and we all rolled in there without wrecking, but when I first heard we were three-wide, I was pretty concerned that I wasn’t gonna have a clean lane to race in.”

As for the final restart, Johnson believed that Edwards got away with not following what he said was “restart protocol.”

“I felt like Carl…was slower than the pace car on his last two restarts, and it gives the leader a huge advantage when that happens,” said Johnson.

“You’re supposed to wait until you get between the two lines [on the wall] and take off and this was all going on before it…At some point, you can’t see the guy to know when he’s going to accelerate, and that’s the goal of the leader. If he can get you looking and get out of your sight and punch it, you never have a chance to recover and that is why the rule states that you’re supposed to maintain pace car speed.”

Still, Johnson will take an eight-point lead in the championship over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Las Vegas, where he’ll have the chance next weekend to continue a hot start to his drive for a sixth Cup title.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.