Jimmie Johnson: Chase elimination will be “great medicine” for himself, team


Reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s recent elimination from the Chase is certainly not what he, crew chief Chad Knaus, and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had in mind for this season.

Johnson’s 24th-place finish in last weekend’s Contender Round finale at Talladega Superspeedway officially knocked him out of the championship battle.

A crash and 40th-place finish at Kansas, followed by a late-race fade at Charlotte, put him in a virtual must-win situation at ‘Dega.

He almost pulled it off, leading a race-high 84 laps. But he was shuffled out of the pack in the final stages and could not recover.

Ever the optimist, though, Johnson believes that he and the team will use their exit from the Chase as “great medicine” – motivation to come back better than ever and get that record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship in 2015.

“It wasn’t fun leaving Kansas or Charlotte,” Johnson said today at Martinsville Speedway, where he’s seeking his ninth Cup victory this weekend. “It was relatively dark – not a lot of sunlight floating around – but you have that. I truly believe those moments make you stronger and they make you dig in deeper, and really, it’s great medicine for the 48.

“I don’t want to be in this position, but this is great medicine to sit and watch this championship unfold. It’s gonna motivate me, Chad…All of us on the 48 team. So we’ll be back next year, and ready to roll.”

Talladega did a serious number on Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase hopes, eliminating Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leaving four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon as its last bullet.

You would figure that Gordon will now have all of Hendrick’s resources at his disposal, including help from his three teammates.

However, Johnson says that there may only be so much his team can do in that regard, noting that he and Gordon have been “relatively far apart” on car set-ups throughout the year.

“Outside of them painting a 48 car for us and us running it and trying to give them direct info, that’s about the only way I think we can help,” Johnson said.

Still, Johnson will make sure to keep tabs on Gordon’s whereabouts during races and let him know of changes on his set-up that work for him.

“We’ll do what we can – mainly, be there to answer questions,” he said. “I’ve always won championships by keeping it simple, and I feel like getting too far away from the normal and over-thinking things creates problems for me.

“I’m not sure how Jeff wants to go about things, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they just keep to themselves and do what they can. It’s what got them in this position, and that’s what’s gonna win them a championship.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)