Johnson keeping an eye on Chase rivals going into Charlotte

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Jimmie Johnson drew within three points of Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Matt Kenseth following last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway, but the five-time Cup champion is cognizant of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon behind him as well.

Harvick staked his claim as a legit contender with his triumph last weekend at Kansas, which enabled him to pull within 25 points of Kenseth in third place.

As for Gordon, Johnson’s teammate, he hasn’t broken through for a win yet but has not had a big slip-up either with finishes of sixth, 15th, fourth and third so far this post-season; he’s 32 points behind Kenseth at fourth in the championship.

On Thursday, Johnson maintained that he was still focusing on getting by Kenseth for the Chase’s top spot. However, he also noted the recent efforts of Harvick and Gordon, which have proven how tough they could be to deal with should the points situation tighten further.

“I certainly have to be aware of [Gordon] and the consistency they have had and the fast cars and great performances – and the same thing with [Harvick],” Johnson said.

“Kevin has got it all. He’s won championships, he understands the pressure. He is a hard-nosed racer – things don’t rattle him. He’s got that all there and the cars have been trending faster and faster and he showed that last week with a dominating weekend. [I’m] looking forward but I certainly know who is behind us.”

Charlotte has been a traditional stronghold for Johnson and the No. 48 gang but they’ve only celebrated in Victory Lane there once since the 2006 season.

A major repave has had a negative effect on their recent performances at the 1.5-mile oval, but Johnson remains confident that while he may not be able to put up a win in tonight’s Bank of America 500, he can still net a solid result.

“…It’s a little different than it was five or six years ago when they resurfaced the track, so we’re still trying to find that magic where we can separate ourselves each time we come back,” Johnson said. “But I still feel like we’re in that Top-3 or Top-5 group, week-in and week-out.

“As long as Matt [Kenseth] isn’t winning, then Top-3 or Top-5 wouldn’t be too bad this weekend.”

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)