Despite starting last, Johnson earns Top-10 finish

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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.”

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.