Johnson takes over Chase lead with four races to go

3 Comments

For the first time in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Matt Kenseth is not leading the championship.

Jimmie Johnson’s 13th-place result in today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway seems a bit lacking after he led a race-high 47 laps. However, it was enough to take the Chase lead from Kenseth, who, like Johnson, ran up front early but finished 20th at the checkered flag.

With four races remaining in the post-season, Johnson now leads by four points over Kenseth as the Chase heads from the Sprint Cup Series’ biggest track to its smallest – the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway – for next week’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger.

Johnson had hoped to continue what had been a strong run as of late on restrictor plate tracks, but found himself shuffled out of the lead pack as the race wound down.

“The outside lane got going and everyone jumped up in it, and you just don’t know if people are going to chase the bottom or the top,” Johnson told ESPN afterwards. “When I saw the 1 car [race winner Jamie McMurray] have the lead, then you figured the 1 and the 88 [runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr.] would take the top. And as that developed, I was on the bottom lane and worked my way to the middle lane.

“I was able to maintain for a while and then everyone went single-file at the top, and I just dropped like a rock…But we rallied back, got a few more spots, and most importantly, got back in front of the 20 [Kenseth] and missed the [last-lap] wreck on the backstretch.”

As for Kenseth, who was one of the top drivers in the first half of the race, he tumbled from the lead pack with an ill-handling car in the middle stages. Toward the end, he was able to charge back into the Top 5, only to fade once more.

“It was really bizarre,” Kenseth said of his car’s evil ways. “Typically, handling is a non-issue here and we just got so loose, I couldn’t hang on to it. I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs which was disappointing.

“We finally got it fixed on the last run, but we only had 20 laps to get back up there and I really needed to be up there like we were early and kind of feel like I was controlling the race more, controlling the lanes, the runs and all of that. I could never get back to there.”

When asked about losing the Chase lead, Kenseth said the matter wouldn’t affect him or his team’s focus.

“I honestly feel like we can race with anybody when we’re at our best,” he said.  “So hopefully, we’ll be at our best the next four weeks and give ’em a run for their money.”

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

Photo: John Force Racing
Leave a comment

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.