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It was déjà vu again Sunday as Jimmie Johnson wheeled the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to a second-place finish in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Johnson climbed into the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship with his second consecutive runner-up finish in the 2012 Chase.
Johnson charged through the field from the 20th starting position. By lap 75, he passed Tony Stewart to reach the top five for the first time. Johnson remained near the front for the remainder of the race. On lap 130, crew chief Chad Knaus called Johnson down pit road for two tires. A few cars stayed out during the pit stop, and Johnson restarted in eighth. By lap 144, he had regained his spot in the top five. He spent the remainder of the race fluctuating within the top-five positions.
With less than 100 laps to go, Johnson assumed second place, where he would stay until a caution on lap 274. The field bunched up and gave Johnson one last shot at passing leader Denny Hamlin, whose car dominated the event. Hamlin proved too strong, and five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson settled for his second consecutive runner-up finish.
"We had a great racecar, just not an amazing car like the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) had,” said Johnson who has three previous wins at the 1.058-mile oval. “We were best in class today, did a great job. We really expected the No. 11 to be tough here today, and he was. I was telling the guys on the radio on the way in, to only leave seven points on the table in two races is pretty good. We missed that win last week and this week, and we didn't lead the most this weekend. But it is probably seven (points) total. That's not bad. Very proud of this Lowe's team."
Hamlin won the Sylvania 300 to score his 22nd career Sprint Cup victory, his series-high fifth of the season and his second at New Hampshire.
Johnson finished 2.675 seconds behind him in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were four caution periods for 17 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 300-lap race.
With the second race of the Chase completed, Johnson takes the top spot away from Keselowski. Johnson has 2,096 points, just one point ahead of Keselowski. All four Hendrick Motorports drivers are competing in the Chase. Kahne is next behind Johnson for the Hendrick drivers in the point standings, fifth with 2,081 points, 15 out of first. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is next, seventh with 2,070 points, 26 out of first. Gordon is 12th with 2,051 points, 45 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the third race of the 10-race Chase – is the AAA 400 on Sept. 30 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 1 p.m.