Johnson within striking distance after two Chase races

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All that fretting about Jimmie Johnson’s performance going into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup appears to have been over nothing.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 1-2 punch of Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch may be atop the championship after two Chase events, but Johnson has been no slouch either with finishes of fifth at Chicagoland Speedway and fourth yesterday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Yesterday’s performance didn’t have Johnson rallying from pit road problems as he did at Chicagoland, but it was the kind of consistent effort that has been he and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team’s calling card over the years – especially during Chase time.

“It was better than we thought it would be,” Johnson said. “I felt like we were really going to have to scrap for a Top-10, maybe a Top-5. I truthfully feel like we had a shot to win this race, if not run second or third.”

The final few restarts were enough to keep him from mounting a charge to the front, however, as he found himself on the inside lane that proved problematic in those situations.

On the last restart of the day, Johnson was caught behind Martin Truex Jr. when the Michael Waltrip Racing pilot spun his tires, causing him to have to recover some lost positions in the remaining laps.

But all in all, Johnson knows he’s still in decent shape despite the torrid start from Kenseth and Busch, his rivals at JGR. He’s in third place in the standings, and only 18 points behind Kenseth heading to Dover (where he’s won seven times in his career).

“To open [the Chase] with a 5-4 [finishing positions] is great,” Johnson said. “1-1 like Matt has is a lot better, but we’re in a good spot. We haven’t given up too many points, and we’re going to one of my best race tracks next week in Dover…

“…We are getting into the meat of the Chase and where there are some great tracks for this Chevrolet that I am driving and all these Lowe’s guys are working so hard to make it fast.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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