Johnson returning to scene of June restart controversy

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Jimmie Johnson believes that NASCAR’s recent tweaks to its restart rule were helped along by what occurred to him on the final restart of the Sprint Cup Series’ first 2013 visit to Dover International Speedway back in June.

Johnson was penalized by NASCAR for jumping that restart, which caused him to be relegated to a 17th place finish after pacing 143 laps on the afternoon.

He insisted that second-place Juan Pablo Montoya was going too slow coming out of the restart zone, but in his own explanation of the matter, NASCAR senior vice president Robin Pemberton said at the time that the penalty was “cut and dry.”

On Friday at Dover, where the Chase for the Sprint Cup will continue this weekend with the AAA 400, Johnson looked back on the incident and noted what he sees as its later impact.

“Oh yeah, it definitely had a role in [the restart changes],” Johnson said. “I think it was three or four restarts I was a part of that helped shaped the rule that we have now.

“I think it’s a good fix. I think it’s a good compromise between protecting second on a lot of these mile and a half [tracks] where we have an apron that drivers can shoot down onto and make a pass. I think it’s protecting second place from that situation.

“At other race tracks and like what happened to me here, where the leader doesn’t go, it takes that away from the leader. So I think it’s good. I think it’s a good compromise for what the drivers and the front row have to manage…I hate that it took so long, but I think it’s a good change.”

With that matter settled, Johnson is focusing in on an eighth career win at the “Monster Mile” after starting the Chase with back-to-back Top-5 finishes. But after Matt Kenseth’s hot start to the post-season with two consecutive victories, Johnson knows he can’t expect an easy drive on Sunday.

“I know it’s a good track for the No. 18 [Kenseth’s car] and historically, Matt has been strong here when I think back to some of the Roush [Fenway] days years ago, they are not too far back,” he said.

“I think with how he has been running this year, he’s going to be tough to beat and we will just get out there and race hard and get every point we can.”

Johnson enters Dover third in the championship, 18 points behind Kenseth.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.