Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 was a prime example of why Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have been able to lay claim to five Sprint Cup championships in the last seven seasons.
Johnson was forced to start 43rd for the first time in his NASCAR national series career after his car failed post-qualifying inspection on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But once again, he and his team rose to the occasion, turning a potential disaster into a sixth-place showing in Loudon.
“Five-Time” got to work early, hitting the Top 20 after just 50 laps. His run then appeared to stall out around the 15th place mark as the race headed for halfway, but a two-tire stop enabled him to get into the Top 10, where he would stay for the remainder of the afternoon.
At a track where passing can be tough to come by, being able to make hay on the restarts was critical for Johnson.
“Really, the lane that you were in on a restart had a huge impact on how many cars you could pass,” he said. “A few times I was on the outside and made my way to third, and then a few times [I was] on the inside and I slipped back.
“You didn’t have any other opportunity. Once we got single file, you couldn’t complete a pass or really get position on someone. So, restarts were your one and only opportunity to make something happen and everybody was doing what they could.”
The sixth-place result continued a strong run for Johnson as of late. With two victories (Pocono and Daytona) and five Top-10s in the last six races, he appears more than ready to take back the Sprint Cup. His run at Loudon enabled him to stretch his lead in the championship to 56 points, the biggest cushion he’s had all year in the standings.
Sunday didn’t end in victory for Johnson, but after an all-day fight, a Top 10 result should be a nice reward for him and HMS going into an off weekend.
“We made the best of a bad situation and that’s all you can do,” said Knaus. “We wanted to make today a non-issue and I think that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t need to win today, but the most important thing is we didn’t need to lose. And I think we came out of here with a solid run.”