Johnson takes over Chase lead with four races to go

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For the first time in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Matt Kenseth is not leading the championship.

Jimmie Johnson’s 13th-place result in today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway seems a bit lacking after he led a race-high 47 laps. However, it was enough to take the Chase lead from Kenseth, who, like Johnson, ran up front early but finished 20th at the checkered flag.

With four races remaining in the post-season, Johnson now leads by four points over Kenseth as the Chase heads from the Sprint Cup Series’ biggest track to its smallest – the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway – for next week’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger.

Johnson had hoped to continue what had been a strong run as of late on restrictor plate tracks, but found himself shuffled out of the lead pack as the race wound down.

“The outside lane got going and everyone jumped up in it, and you just don’t know if people are going to chase the bottom or the top,” Johnson told ESPN afterwards. “When I saw the 1 car [race winner Jamie McMurray] have the lead, then you figured the 1 and the 88 [runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr.] would take the top. And as that developed, I was on the bottom lane and worked my way to the middle lane.

“I was able to maintain for a while and then everyone went single-file at the top, and I just dropped like a rock…But we rallied back, got a few more spots, and most importantly, got back in front of the 20 [Kenseth] and missed the [last-lap] wreck on the backstretch.”

As for Kenseth, who was one of the top drivers in the first half of the race, he tumbled from the lead pack with an ill-handling car in the middle stages. Toward the end, he was able to charge back into the Top 5, only to fade once more.

“It was really bizarre,” Kenseth said of his car’s evil ways. “Typically, handling is a non-issue here and we just got so loose, I couldn’t hang on to it. I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs which was disappointing.

“We finally got it fixed on the last run, but we only had 20 laps to get back up there and I really needed to be up there like we were early and kind of feel like I was controlling the race more, controlling the lanes, the runs and all of that. I could never get back to there.”

When asked about losing the Chase lead, Kenseth said the matter wouldn’t affect him or his team’s focus.

“I honestly feel like we can race with anybody when we’re at our best,” he said.  “So hopefully, we’ll be at our best the next four weeks and give ’em a run for their money.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.