No surprise: Jimmie Johnson first to clinch Chase spot

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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.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.