Jimmie Johnson not worried about poor results heading into Chase

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This situation looks awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Going into last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team were sputtering with results of 40th, 36th, 28th, and 40th in the final four regular season races.

Things worked out well enough for them. Now, going into this year’s Chase, they’re dealing with another rough patch: Three crashes in the last five races, with a top finish of 14th at the Brickyard 400 three weeks ago.

But Johnson is unperturbed. He’s gone into the post-season running strong and running poorly, but either way, he’s had to put what he did in the regular season out of mind and focus on the 10-race battle for the championship.

“In the past, you had a 10-race program to kind of look at, and now you almost have four categories to look at,” he said today at Michigan International Speedway before Sprint Cup practice. “So, the game has changed, for sure. But I think where I sit today and how I view the Chase and when it starts is the same even though the format has changed.

“Those ten tracks in the Chase are really probably nine or 10 of my best tracks on the circuit. And if we have a slow run entering, we’ll just deal with it and rely on the team that we’ve built and who we are as individuals in each position and step-up as need be.”

It’s been an interesting year for the reigning Sprint Cup champion. Johnson dealt with a lack of performance in the early stages of the season, but then rattled off three wins in a stretch of four races, including his first Cup win at Michigan back in June.

Now, he’s been repeatedly falling victim to rotten luck. Last week at Watkins Glen was a good example of that – Johnson was running in the Top 10 when he was spun out off of a restart with nine laps remaining. After collecting Regan Smith in the incident, Johnson had to settle for a 28th-place finish.

But with his place in the Chase already secured, Johnson’s hoping that he’s simply getting all the bad days out of the way now.

“It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase. If it doesn’t happen, we’ve won championships that way, too,” he said. “So, we’re taking it as it comes, but it has been a very challenging year.

“We started off without the speed that we wanted. We got the speed back and then the luck left. So, we choose to look at it as we’re getting all this out of the way so we can have ten great races and hopefully it happens that way.”

Josef Newgarden wins for 3rd time in 4 years in rain-shortened Honda Indy GP of Alabama

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Given how well he’s done there, they may want to consider renaming Barber Motorsports Park to Newgarden Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden won for the second straight year and third time in the last four races at BMP to capture Monday’s rain-delayed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“I like it here,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We could do the whole series at Barber. That’d be great.”

Newgarden won his ninth career IndyCar race on what he considers his home track, just three hours from his home north of Nashville, Tennessee.

Monday’s race on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course was a timed event of 75 minutes after Sunday’s rain-postponement after 22 laps of the scheduled 90 laps.

As it turned out, both ends of Sunday’s start and Monday’s finish, a total of 82 laps were contested.

Rain once again became an issue in about the last 15 minutes of Monday’s rescheduled event but Newgarden – who started from the pole – made a stop for rain tires with 14 minutes left and that proved to be the winning strategy. He also regains the lead in the IndyCar point standings from Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi.

“The rain made it more eventful than I would have liked,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We had good fuel mileage and good reliability, that’s what we needed to win this race.

“It seemed like smooth sailing for the most part — we had no yellows, which we were hoping for no yellows — and then the rain crept in. … Fortunately, we had a big gap, which helped us win the race, just building that gap over the beginning part. … It’s a great day for Team Penske.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, followed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, with Sebastien Bourdais finishing fifth.

“Solid weekend for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 in qualifying and two cars in the top 5 in the race. Pretty proud of these boys. It’s good to get a couple Hondas up there. Maybe not the top steps in the podium, but we took the rest of it.”

Bourdais had hoped to finish the race on slicks and win. But he was forced to pit with 7:15 left after his car became too difficult to control in heavy rain, swapping to rain tires.

Unfortunately, pitting essentially cost Bourdais the win.

“We were in the catbird’s seat for second and were hoping that he’d get some good times on the drives in the wet, but the wet just kept coming and we had to bring him in,” team owner Dale Coyne said.

Added Bourdais, “We’re in it to win it, did everything we could, it was seemingly going to be good enough. … I think we had beaten (Newgarden). Yet, the sky opened and that was it.”

Scott Dixon finished sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti.

Eleventh through 20th were Rossi, Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Rene Binder, Gabby Chaves, Tony Kanaan, Zach Claman De Melo and Ed Jones.

Rounding out the final three finishing positions were Will Power, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* Spencer Pigot and rookie Zach Claman De Melo got into a tangle early on, but both were able to get going and damage appeared minimal.

* With 8:30 left, Rossi spun into the Turn 5 gravel but was able to get going.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* Will Power’s team was able to get his damaged car repaired and he was back on-track roughly 10 minutes into Monday’s action.

* Scott Dixon lost much of the electronics on his car with about 28 minutes left. He essentially had to handle things old school, going by feel. He wound up being penalized for speeding on pit road when his dashboard went out.

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