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.”

Montoya: ‘Hopefully I get a chance to do Indy again’ (VIDEO)

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Juan Pablo Montoya is on site at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, his latest trip in a summer and fall filled with a lot of international travel and a number of different race cars he’s been in.

Montoya is committed to a full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Acura Team Penske in 2018, as he’ll share one of the team’s Acura ARX-05s with Dane Cameron.

However, the question of whether he’ll be able to race in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil remains.

Team Penske has said it plans to only run four cars next month of May, with Helio Castroneves as the fourth driver alongside the three full-time cars driven by Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

While Montoya has said elsewhere that he’s shopping offers and has talked with other teams, it’d be highly surprising to see the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who developed the Chevrolet engine for IndyCar’s 2018 Dallara universal body kit in a Honda-powered IndyCar, although he is running Honda’s brand (Acura) in sports cars.

Montoya elaborated on his Indy 500 prospects in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton at the Circuit of The Americas.

“Not full-time no,” Montoya told NBCSN of his IndyCar 2018 prospects. “Hopefully I get a chance to go to Indy, hopefully with Penske, (and) if not someone else. We’ll see.”

Photo: IndyCar

Montoya has extolled the early testing both on the 2018 IndyCar and on the Acura ARX-05.

The first Acura chassis has run at Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway thus far, and will be put through its paces at other venues over the next few months.

“It’s been good. We did a lot of work with INDYCAR on that car. Fans are gonna like it,” Montoya said of the 2018 kit.

“Going to IMSA with the Acura program, we’ve done a lot of testing. It’s a beauty to drive. It drives better than what it looks! I haven’t had that much fun driving a race car in a long time.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018