Jimmie Johnson wrecks early at New Hampshire after tire failure

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Jimmie Johnson started on the front row for today’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but has crashed early on Lap 13 due to a left-rear tire failure.

Prior to his crash, Johnson had been forced to abandon second on the track when he had a left-rear tire go flat under green at Lap 8. But when he got back to the pits, his Hendrick Motorsports crew started on the right side of the car instead of the left, adding to the length of the stop.

Johnson came back out 42nd and one lap off the pace, and on Lap 13, his new left-rear tire blew and sent him spinning into the Turn 1 wall. USA Today writer and NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan passed along this bit from Johnson over the team’s radio:

“The first [tire problem], I was able to drive the car all the way through Turns 1 and 2,” Johnson told TNT. “I knew I had a flat, I got it down the back [stretch] and came in. The other one just blew on one of the straights as soon as I hit the brakes.

“I’m not sure what caused it – I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation and finger-pointing back to our team. But we’ve seen some issues here especially with that particular tire over the last couple of days.

“We’ll try to dig into it and learn more, but I can promise you one thing. It wasn’t low tire pressures. I’ve been out here for two days running around and haven’t had a flat.”

However, Goodyear official Greg Stucker has told reporters at NHMS that the 48’s two tire failures was “in a manner consistent with low inflation pressure.”

On Friday, Joey Logano suffered a left-rear tire failure in practice and crashed his primary car, reportedly sustaining a sprained wrist in the process. Then yesterday in second practice, Aric Almirola wrecked after a tire went down on him as well.

Like Logano, he is racing today in a backup car but had to start from the rear of the field since his own incident took place after qualifying.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.