Johnson hangs on for runner-up finish

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Jimmie Johnson didn’t have enough to take down Carl Edwards in the green-white-checkered finish today at Phoenix International Raceway, but he still sits atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings.

The five-time Cup champion followed up his Daytona 500 win last weekend with a second-place finish that saw him and Denny Hamlin go side-by-side to the checkered flag for the position; Johnson narrowly got the spot by 12 one-hundredths of a second but not before Hamlin had gone through the backstretch apron on the final lap to battle him and Brad Keselowski (who finished fourth).

“I thought we were going to enter three-wide and I was going to be in the worse spot,” Johnson said of the situation. “The clean line turns away from me, so I was looking out my window and I could see a lot of [Hamlin] and I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure really what’s gonna happen here — sure not gonna let off.'”

“[Keselowski] gave him some room and we all rolled in there without wrecking, but when I first heard we were three-wide, I was pretty concerned that I wasn’t gonna have a clean lane to race in.”

As for the final restart, Johnson believed that Edwards got away with not following what he said was “restart protocol.”

“I felt like Carl…was slower than the pace car on his last two restarts, and it gives the leader a huge advantage when that happens,” said Johnson.

“You’re supposed to wait until you get between the two lines [on the wall] and take off and this was all going on before it…At some point, you can’t see the guy to know when he’s going to accelerate, and that’s the goal of the leader. If he can get you looking and get out of your sight and punch it, you never have a chance to recover and that is why the rule states that you’re supposed to maintain pace car speed.”

Still, Johnson will take an eight-point lead in the championship over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Las Vegas, where he’ll have the chance next weekend to continue a hot start to his drive for a sixth Cup title.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.