Johnson returning to scene of June restart controversy

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Jimmie Johnson believes that NASCAR’s recent tweaks to its restart rule were helped along by what occurred to him on the final restart of the Sprint Cup Series’ first 2013 visit to Dover International Speedway back in June.

Johnson was penalized by NASCAR for jumping that restart, which caused him to be relegated to a 17th place finish after pacing 143 laps on the afternoon.

He insisted that second-place Juan Pablo Montoya was going too slow coming out of the restart zone, but in his own explanation of the matter, NASCAR senior vice president Robin Pemberton said at the time that the penalty was “cut and dry.”

On Friday at Dover, where the Chase for the Sprint Cup will continue this weekend with the AAA 400, Johnson looked back on the incident and noted what he sees as its later impact.

“Oh yeah, it definitely had a role in [the restart changes],” Johnson said. “I think it was three or four restarts I was a part of that helped shaped the rule that we have now.

“I think it’s a good fix. I think it’s a good compromise between protecting second on a lot of these mile and a half [tracks] where we have an apron that drivers can shoot down onto and make a pass. I think it’s protecting second place from that situation.

“At other race tracks and like what happened to me here, where the leader doesn’t go, it takes that away from the leader. So I think it’s good. I think it’s a good compromise for what the drivers and the front row have to manage…I hate that it took so long, but I think it’s a good change.”

With that matter settled, Johnson is focusing in on an eighth career win at the “Monster Mile” after starting the Chase with back-to-back Top-5 finishes. But after Matt Kenseth’s hot start to the post-season with two consecutive victories, Johnson knows he can’t expect an easy drive on Sunday.

“I know it’s a good track for the No. 18 [Kenseth’s car] and historically, Matt has been strong here when I think back to some of the Roush [Fenway] days years ago, they are not too far back,” he said.

“I think with how he has been running this year, he’s going to be tough to beat and we will just get out there and race hard and get every point we can.”

Johnson enters Dover third in the championship, 18 points behind Kenseth.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “