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.”

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”