Camping World RV Sales 301

Despite starting last, Johnson earns Top-10 finish


Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 was a prime example of why Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have been able to lay claim to five Sprint Cup championships in the last seven seasons.

Johnson was forced to start 43rd for the first time in his NASCAR national series career after his car failed post-qualifying inspection on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But once again, he and his team rose to the occasion, turning a potential disaster into a sixth-place showing in Loudon.

“Five-Time” got to work early, hitting the Top 20 after just 50 laps. His run then appeared to stall out around the 15th place mark as the race headed for halfway, but a two-tire stop enabled him to get into the Top 10, where he would stay for the remainder of the afternoon.

At a track where passing can be tough to come by, being able to make hay on the restarts was critical for Johnson.

“Really, the lane that you were in on a restart had a huge impact on how many cars you could pass,” he said. “A few times I was on the outside and made my way to third, and then a few times [I was] on the inside and I slipped back.

“You didn’t have any other opportunity. Once we got single file, you couldn’t complete a pass or really get position on someone. So, restarts were your one and only opportunity to make something happen and everybody was doing what they could.”

The sixth-place result continued a strong run for Johnson as of late. With two victories (Pocono and Daytona) and five Top-10s in the last six races, he appears more than ready to take back the Sprint Cup. His run at Loudon enabled him to stretch his lead in the championship to 56 points, the biggest cushion he’s had all year in the standings.

Sunday didn’t end in victory for Johnson, but after an all-day fight, a Top 10 result should be a nice reward for him and HMS going into an off weekend.

“We made the best of a bad situation and that’s all you can do,” said Knaus. “We wanted to make today a non-issue and I think that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t need to win today, but the most important thing is we didn’t need to lose. And I think we came out of here with a solid run.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish

It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.

Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.

As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.

His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.

The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.