Jimmie Johnson ready to go for season-saving Talladega win

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Jimmie Johnson is down to his last chance.

The defending Sprint Cup champion’s crash at Kansas and so-so result one week ago at Charlotte has put him 26 points behind the cutoff for the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A win in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is probably his only chance to move on.

But even with the long odds of winning on NASCAR’s most unpredictable track, Johnson said he was excited about getting one more chance.

“Two bad races would have eliminated me from any opportunity of winning a championship in each previous format,” he said today at ‘Dega. “So I feel like I have a third opportunity this weekend. Granted, it’s a tough one and a lofty goal; there are many other guys out there with the same goal, not only from a Chase situation but also trying to win a race this year.

“I’ve got a lot of work ahead for myself and this team this weekend so we’re ready for the challenge. We’ll get out there to work and see what happens.”

However, he also said that while he’s thought long and hard about how to approach Sunday’s elimination race, there was no “clear vision” to him about what strategy would be best.

“Racing for it can get you in trouble. Riding can get you in trouble,” he said. “If you ride at some point, you have to go to the front. With this rules package, it’s much more difficult to get track position.

“It seems like with maybe three pit stops to go, you need to have control of the race and maintain it – or at least be in first or second to be at the head of the line and give yourself a chance to win.

“So I don’t know… I really don’t. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. From the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win.”

Should Sunday see Johnson fail to advance, it will mark the effective end of a season that has been hit-or-miss for him, crew chief Chad Knaus, and the No. 48 team. While Johnson’s won three times in 2014, flashes of his usual dominance have not been sustained.

With another new rules package coming in next season, Johnson said that if he did not move forward in the Chase, he and the 48 camp would likely shift their focus to getting a head-start on 2015 as it would “be in our best interest.”

But right now, everything is focused on winning at ‘Dega – and pushing that particular scenario back for at least three more races.

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.