Joey Logano fastest in Sprint Cup Happy Hour, Jimmie Johnson woes continue as he hits wall

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CONCORD, N.C. – When you’re hot, you’re hot – and when you’re not, you’re not.

NASCAR’s hottest driver, Joey Logano, has won two of the last three races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

And by being the fastest in Friday’s Happy Hour practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Logano took a big step towards potentially making it three out of four in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 on the 1.5-mile fast track.

Logano topped the 43-driver field with a best speed of 190.597 mph.

“It’s not fast enough, for sure,” Logano said. “It was fast for one lap. … I don’t think we’re that bad, we’re just trying to get the balance a little better.”

And then there was the opposite end of the spectrum: six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson. After running 63 laps, Johnson reportedly planned to take two more laps when he pushed his Chevrolet a bit too much, hitting the outside retaining wall.

It’s not much consolation but Johnson, who is last in the standings and in dire need of a strong finish in Saturday’s race, was eighth fastest (189.354 mph).

Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick surveyed the damage to see if it was repairable or whether they’d have to go to a back-up car.

But in a post-practice interview with ESPN, Johnson said it appears the damage is minimal and, more importantly, fixable.

“The car’s really fast,” Johnson said. “We were feeling really good about things. The good news is that it’s just a big scratch. Just a little drama.”

If the car would not been able to be repaired, Johnson would have to start at the back of the field in Saturday’s race – and with a car that has not had any on-track time this weekend.

Kurt Busch, who was eliminated from the Chase after falling short of advancing past the first round of eliminations, was second fastest at 190.463 mph, followed by Kevin Harvick (190.087) and Jeff Gordon (190.007), the only other drivers to exceed 190 mph.

Brad Keselowski, who slipped to 10th in the 12-driver Chase standings after this past Sunday’s race at Kansas, was fifth fastest (189.893 mph), followed by Denny Hamlin (189.687) and another driver who was eliminated after the first round of the Chase, A.J. Allmendinger (189.553), followed by Johnson.

Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards (189.308) and Greg Biffle (189.188) brought up the rear of the top 10.

From 11th through 20th were Aric Almirola (189.095), Paul Menard (189.076), Austin Dillon (189.062), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (188.043), pole-sitter Kyle Busch (189.023), Matt Kenseth (188.976), Tony Stewart (188.587), Martin Truex Jr. (188.521), Kasey Kahne (188.449) and the slowest Chase driver in the pack, Ryan Newman, 20th fastest at 188.350 mph.

Clint Bowyer was 21st fastest (188.245), followed by Jamie McMurray (188.075), Justin Allgaier (187.702), Brian Vickers (187.474), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (187.227), Michael McDowell (187.968), Danica Patrick (186.961), Marcos Ambrose (186.948), Landon Cassill (186.896) and Kyle Larson (186.864).

Then came the back of the pack from 31st through 43rd: Cole Whitt (186.361), Reed Sorenson (186.290), Alex Bowman (186.765), Casey Mears (185.491), David Gilliland (185.459), Michael Annett (185.058), Josh Wise (185.052), Corey LaJoie (184.887), David Ragan (184.250), Brett Moffitt (182.574), Timmy Hill (182.550), JJ Yeley (181.849) and Blake Koch (181.439).

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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.