Jimmie Johnson faces end of Sprint Cup title reign after 17th-place finish in Charlotte

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NASCAR’s current king, Jimmie Johnson, may be losing his throne very soon.

Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion, desperately needed a strong result last night at Charlotte Motor Speedway following a crash in the Contender Round opener at Kansas.

And it appeared the champ would rise to the occasion with a Top-5 finish that would at least improve his outlook heading to next Sunday’s elimination race at Talladega.

But after the caution came out with seven laps to go in the Bank of America 500, Johnson abandoned fourth position and went to the pits under yellow for right-side tires while the rest of the leaders stayed out.

The decision put Johnson in 10th for the restart with two to go, and the final rush to the checkered flag went badly as Johnson faded to 17th at the finish.

It was a poor conclusion to an up-and-down night that saw Johnson make significant progress from 21st on the starting grid but also have some tense radio conversations between himself and crew chief Chad Knaus.

The end result won’t make matters better for Johnson, who’s now 26 points behind the Top 8 cutoff for the Eliminator Round at 11th on the Chase Grid.

Johnson cracked the Top 10 on the track shortly after the restart at Lap 100 of 334, and with the help of good pit stops, he was able to stay in that bracket through the middle stages of the race.

A two-tire stop under yellow with 65 laps to go enabled Johnson to move up to third position behind Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. He slipped back a couple of positions in the early parts of this stint, but was able to remain in the Top 5 after a final round of green flag stops with less than 25 to go.

Then came the caution with 7 to go for Brian Vickers blowing an engine. Eventual race winner Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, and Hamlin were ahead of Johnson at the time, but instead of staying out with them, Johnson was called in – a decision that, in hindsight, appeared to backfire severely.

Now, he’s down to what is effectively a win or bust scenario at Talladega, the most unpredictable track in NASCAR.

It’s a situation that Johnson clearly wanted no part of after the end of the Challenger Round at Dover, saying then that such a situation would have drivers “on pins and needles and stressing like crazy.”

However, now that’s he in the spot he’s in, it would appear he’s trying to embrace it. He tweeted the following this morning:

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III