Johnson within striking distance after two Chase races

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All that fretting about Jimmie Johnson’s performance going into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup appears to have been over nothing.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 1-2 punch of Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch may be atop the championship after two Chase events, but Johnson has been no slouch either with finishes of fifth at Chicagoland Speedway and fourth yesterday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Yesterday’s performance didn’t have Johnson rallying from pit road problems as he did at Chicagoland, but it was the kind of consistent effort that has been he and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team’s calling card over the years – especially during Chase time.

“It was better than we thought it would be,” Johnson said. “I felt like we were really going to have to scrap for a Top-10, maybe a Top-5. I truthfully feel like we had a shot to win this race, if not run second or third.”

The final few restarts were enough to keep him from mounting a charge to the front, however, as he found himself on the inside lane that proved problematic in those situations.

On the last restart of the day, Johnson was caught behind Martin Truex Jr. when the Michael Waltrip Racing pilot spun his tires, causing him to have to recover some lost positions in the remaining laps.

But all in all, Johnson knows he’s still in decent shape despite the torrid start from Kenseth and Busch, his rivals at JGR. He’s in third place in the standings, and only 18 points behind Kenseth heading to Dover (where he’s won seven times in his career).

“To open [the Chase] with a 5-4 [finishing positions] is great,” Johnson said. “1-1 like Matt has is a lot better, but we’re in a good spot. We haven’t given up too many points, and we’re going to one of my best race tracks next week in Dover…

“…We are getting into the meat of the Chase and where there are some great tracks for this Chevrolet that I am driving and all these Lowe’s guys are working so hard to make it fast.”

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”