NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson wants Bluegrass breakthrough

3 Comments

Doesn’t this sound familiar – Jimmie Johnson, coming to a track where he’s ran well but has never won on in his Sprint Cup career?

No, your mind’s not playing tricks on you. We were talking about this very scenario just two weeks ago heading into Michigan, before Johnson finally nailed down a victory at the fast, two-mile oval.

That left Johnson with four tracks where he’s never picked up a Cup win, and we have another of those tracks coming up this weekend: Kentucky Speedway, where he experienced perhaps one of his more frustrating 2013 outings.

In last year’s race at Kentucky, Johnson led 182 of 267 laps but everything fell apart for him on a late restart with 21 laps to go. Slow to come up to speed at the green flag, Johnson stacked the field and then spun out in Turn 2.

He took the subsequent restart in 25th place and charged all the way to ninth in the final 17 laps. That did little to comfort Johnson, who accused race leader and eventual winner Matt Kenseth of breaking protocol on the restart with 21 laps left.

If you check the statistics, Johnson’s been reliably consistent since the Sprint Cup Series started visiting Kentucky: One Top-5 and three Top-10s in three starts, a strong average finish of 6.0, and the lead in multiple “loop data” categories.

But with three wins already in the bank this season, Johnson will surely being going for broke in order to take a checkered flag in the Commonwealth.

“It would be great to go to Kentucky and win, to cross another track off our list,” he said in a Chevy release today. “We have run really well there, led a lot of laps but just haven’t been able to score a win. Last weekend, we had a really great run going [finished seventh at Sonoma].

“I’m really proud of this team and I’m just looking forward to the upcoming tracks before the off-weekend – Kentucky, Daytona and New Hampshire.”

Johnson certainly has had success at those latter two tracks with three wins apiece at “The World Center of Racing” and the “Magic Mile.” But right now, his focus is on getting rid of his Kentucky goose-egg.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”