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Signs around Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway called it the “the last great Colosseum.” And while there were neither gladiators nor lions, Jimmie Johnson was looking to tame the .533-mile oval in the Irwin Tools Night Race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night.
Unfortunately, a spinning car collected Johnson on lap 360, causing extensive damage to the No. 48 Lowe’s “Dover White” Chevrolet SS. The crew was able to replace much of the front of the car, and Johnson stayed in the battle, bringing home his car in 36th-place.
He still maintains the point lead by an 18-point margin over second-place Clint Bowyer. But Johnson no longer holds the top seed in the Chase as Matt Kenseth won Saturday night, giving him five wins to Johnson’s four.
Johnson started the race in 13th. He reported that his Lowe’s Chevy had tight handling early. Johnson made up little ground in the early part of the race, but crew chief Chad Knaus used several cautions to try and alleviate the tight conditions. On lap 202 of 500, Tony Raines spun and caused damage to the nose of Johnson’s machine. The damage wasn’t extensive enough to put him a lap down, and the crew used cautions on laps 259 and 336 to continue making adjustments.
Johnson reported his car was handling better before David Reutimann spun and came down in front of Johnson, causing enough damage to send Johnson behind the wall for repairs. The Lowe’s crew got Johnson back on track, and he finished in 36th-place, 60 laps down.
“We will definitely come back next week and do all we can,” said Johnson who won at Bristol in March 2010. “We had a decent finish. Last week I really thought we had a shot to win and had an engine failure. This racing stuff happens. Luckily, we had a big points lead that we can kind of deal with right now. We’ve locked into the Chase. We certainly want to clean things up and have some great finishes rolling into the Chase. We’ll keep after it, and be back again next week. We’ll go to Atlanta and do all we can there. And then Richmond; and I feel like we had a really good test. There is still a lot of racing left. And the once the Chase starts, it is its own animal. So we’ll just wait and see what happens during those ten (races).”
Kenseth scored his 29th career Sprint Cup victory, his fifth of the season and his third at Bristol.
Kasey Kahne finished .188 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Juan Pablo Montoya, Brian Vickers and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 74 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round 23 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent and the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 821 points are 18 ahead of second-place Bowyer and 140 ahead of 11th-place Brad Keselowski. Earnhardt is seventh with 714 points, 107 out of first and 33 ahead of 11th. Kahne is eighth with 701 points, 120 out of first and 20 behind 10th. Gordon is 13th with 674 points, 147 out of first and 11 behind 10th.
Just two races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Martin Truex Jr., who is 14th in points, has the first wild card via his win earlier this season at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. Ryan Newman holds the second wild card as he is 15th in points with one victory, earned in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tony Stewart is next in line for the wild card by virtue of his victory at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and 19th-place point standing.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday, Sept. 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.