Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson was largely quiet during today’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, but the five-time Cup champion’s finish of eighth enabled him to be the first driver to clinch a spot in this year’s Chase.
Johnson first cracked the Top 10 just before the halfway mark of the 90-lap race and had climbed as high as third before the caution came out on Lap 59 for Aric Almirola’s crash. He was forced to give up the solid track position to make a stop under the yellow, and had to start 15th when the green came back out at Lap 64.
He then got through the two late restarts that ended in multi-car accidents. With 10 laps to go, two of Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates – Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – were caught in a crash that unfolded in the track’s esses.
Johnson escaped that wreck with minimal damage to his right side, and was ahead of another incident that broke out with six laps to go involving pole sitter Marcos Ambrose and Brian Vickers. On the final restart of the race, Johnson rolled off 10th but picked up two spots for his final result – his 15th Top-10 finish of the season.
It would prove to be the highlight of the afternoon for HMS, who saw Kahne, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon deal with crashes. Earnhardt and Gordon would return to the track but finished 30th and 36th respectively, while Kahne was credited with 34th.
Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.
The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.
“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.
Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”
Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.
“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.
Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.