NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson wants Bluegrass breakthrough

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Doesn’t this sound familiar – Jimmie Johnson, coming to a track where he’s ran well but has never won on in his Sprint Cup career?

No, your mind’s not playing tricks on you. We were talking about this very scenario just two weeks ago heading into Michigan, before Johnson finally nailed down a victory at the fast, two-mile oval.

That left Johnson with four tracks where he’s never picked up a Cup win, and we have another of those tracks coming up this weekend: Kentucky Speedway, where he experienced perhaps one of his more frustrating 2013 outings.

In last year’s race at Kentucky, Johnson led 182 of 267 laps but everything fell apart for him on a late restart with 21 laps to go. Slow to come up to speed at the green flag, Johnson stacked the field and then spun out in Turn 2.

He took the subsequent restart in 25th place and charged all the way to ninth in the final 17 laps. That did little to comfort Johnson, who accused race leader and eventual winner Matt Kenseth of breaking protocol on the restart with 21 laps left.

If you check the statistics, Johnson’s been reliably consistent since the Sprint Cup Series started visiting Kentucky: One Top-5 and three Top-10s in three starts, a strong average finish of 6.0, and the lead in multiple “loop data” categories.

But with three wins already in the bank this season, Johnson will surely being going for broke in order to take a checkered flag in the Commonwealth.

“It would be great to go to Kentucky and win, to cross another track off our list,” he said in a Chevy release today. “We have run really well there, led a lot of laps but just haven’t been able to score a win. Last weekend, we had a really great run going [finished seventh at Sonoma].

“I’m really proud of this team and I’m just looking forward to the upcoming tracks before the off-weekend – Kentucky, Daytona and New Hampshire.”

Johnson certainly has had success at those latter two tracks with three wins apiece at “The World Center of Racing” and the “Magic Mile.” But right now, his focus is on getting rid of his Kentucky goose-egg.

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.