It could have been worse: Jimmie Johnson overcomes damage to finish 25th in Texas

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Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a pain in the grass for Jimmie Johnson in Monday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Had Earnhardt not made a costly mistake, driving off the track and into a waterlogged grassy area in the infield heading into Turn 1, Johnson could very well have finished much better in the race than he actually did.

Unfortunately, a big chunk of the sod Earnhardt tore up, not to mention rubber from the tire he blew when he hit the grass and then bounced off the edge of the pavement and up into the Turn 1 wall went where it shouldn’t have.

Namely, right into Johnson’s windshield and the front end of his car. The impact was so forceful that the debris actually bent part of Johnson’s windshield and the inside support bracket.

As a result, Johnson was forced to make three separate pit stops within a few laps of each other for repairs. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, he had to make a fourth stop when he suffered a right rear tire issue several laps later.

For Johnson to go through such a miserable day and still finish 25th, two laps behind race winner Joey Logano, is commendable and notable.

“When Junior when through the grass, it kicked up all this debris and mud,” Johnson recalled after the race. “It ripped the windshield and ripped the left front.

“There was a lot of noise. And I saw his car and then I instantly lost vision. I felt a couple of hard hits on my car and I knew that we had some damage.

“But … we recovered and had a fast car and we were okay, and then I don’t know if I ran something over on the track or what, but something really big hit the bottom-side of my car and that, I think, punctured our right rear tire. We had to come to pit road after that. And then we lost a couple of laps due to that.”

Johnson actually had a car worthy of winning his second race in a row at Texas, having done so in last fall’s Chase race there.

But when the race finally went green after the field circled TMS for the first 10 laps under yellow/green caution to test the track’s viability and dryness, it took less than two laps for Earnhardt to not only spoil his day, but Johnson’s as well.

“The Lowe’s team gave me a great car today,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of surreal what happened. Junior hit the grass there and something off his car like a splitter or something just destroyed my windshield and then something hit the nose of the car too.

“We were in a good position and were running decent lap times when the right rear blew. I’m glad Junior is alright and hats off to my guys today. We played around with some strategy at the end. They never gave up.

“It was a day of bad luck. We had a fast race car, so there was a little silk lining in it, but it was a terrible finish.”

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Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.