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.