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Jimmie Johnson did everything he could to bring home the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet with all its fenders intact after failing to complete the first three restrictor-plate races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season. But a last-lap crash derailed those plans in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Johnson, who started 17th, managed to cross the start/finish line 17th despite significant damage to the No. 48 machine in the 24-car crash. He led twice for 11 laps around the 2.66-mile oval. The finish keeps him second in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, 14 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus employed their most-recent Talladega strategy early in the race, hanging toward the back of the pack to avoid any early incidents in the 189-lap event, which was extended one lap by a green-white-checkered finish. Johnson made his way to the front after pit stops on lap 61, leading the field as the race went green. After nine laps up front, Johnson dropped again to the rear of the main pack, where he rode for almost the remainder of the race.
On lap 140, Johnson and most of the field pitted for what was possibly the final time, topping off on fuel before the race went green. But Knaus radioed later that if the race stayed green, Johnson would run out of gas – like several other cars – coming off turn 4 on the final lap. Fortunately, that didn’t happen after a caution flew with six laps to go, setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Some cars pitted to top off with fuel, including Johnson, who restarted 11th for the final laps. The field bunched back up and made it around cleanly in the ensuing lap, but coming off the final corner on the final lap, Tony Stewart came across the charging Michael Waltrip, collecting nearly the entire field in the ensuing melee. Johnson managed to limp the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet across the line for a 17th-place finish.
“We knew it was going to happen,” said Johnson, whose two Sprint Cup victories at Talladega came in May 2006 and April 2011. “We did a very good job of managing things all day long. It was just getting really tight. I think we were probably four-wide going into (turn) three. I could see some tire smoke off the guys in front of me, and then everybody just merged together, and we were all in a big wad at that point. Fortunately, my car I could still drive to the finish, so I passed a couple of guys that were sitting there on the bottom trying to get going themselves. I guess I finished 17th. I don't know. We'll take it, I guess. We don't have a choice now.”
Matt Kenseth won the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 to score his 23rd career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Talladega.
Jeff Gordon finished behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution. Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Regan Smith rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski, Travis Kvapil, Newman and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 17 laps, with 17 drivers failing to finish the 189-lap race.
With the fourth race of the Chase completed, Johnson remains second in the championship point standings. Johnson has 2,165 points, 14 points behind leader Keselowski. All four Hendrick Motorports drivers are competing in the Chase. Kahne is next behind Johnson among Hendrick drivers in the point standings, fourth with 2,143 points, 36 out of first. Gordon moved up four spots to claim sixth place with 2,137 points, 42 out of first. Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost four spots and is 11th with 2,128 points, 51 out of first.
With six races remaining before a champion is crowned following the season finale Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the top-12 drivers competing for the title rank as follows:
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the fifth race of the 10-race Chase – is the Bank of America 500 on Oct. 13 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The race begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with a pre-race show at 7 p.m.