Johnson seeks first Cup win at Michigan

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It seems hard to believe, but indeed there are places where five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has never won a race – five of them, actually. One of those facilities where Johnson hasn’t gone to Victory Lane is Michigan International Speedway, site of this weekend’s Quicken Loans 400.

To say that Johnson has been up-and-down recently on the two-mile oval may be putting it mildly. In last year’s pair of races at MIS, Johnson finished fifth in June despite running out of gas on the final lap but then suffered a DNF when the Cup circus came back in August. Going back to 2011, a parts failure led to a 27th-place result in the June race, but in August, he turned in a runner-up effort.

2010 saw him finish 6th (June) and 12th (August), which were improvements from his MIS runs in 2009; in June of that year, he ran out of gas and finished 22nd despite leading 146 of 200 laps, and later that August, more fuel problems sent him to a 33rd-place finish after leading 133 circuits.

Suffice to say, Johnson’s itching to finally get that Michigan win under his belt.

“I’ve been ready for a long time,” said Johnson, who won last weekend at Pocono Raceway in dominant style. “We’ve been so close here. But, when it happens, it will make it all that sweeter for us. The exciting thing is we’ve been plenty fast here over the years. But getting to the final lap and seeing that checkered flag has been a little more difficult than I could imagine.”

But even without a win at MIS, he’s still managed to come away with plenty of hardware in his career. This time, he comes to Michigan with a strong 51-point edge over Carl Edwards in the championship, something that he said he couldn’t think of having when the season began.

That lead, as he also noted, could be bigger at this time if not for problems at the Coca-Cola 600 last month and more recently at Dover International Speedway, where a restart penalty cost him a potential win.

“I look at Charlotte and Dover as misses to even have 20 or 30 more points,” he said. “I really am shocked that we are so far out ahead of everybody. And I know that the No. 20 [Matt Kenseth] has had some bad luck and a couple of other guys have, too. But we’ve had a little bad luck as well.”

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”