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Johnson Capitalizes on Kenseth’s Rough Day In The Desert

Johnson Capitalizes on Kenseth’s Rough Day In The Desert

by November 10, 2013 0 comments

Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR

AVONDALE, Ariz :: Jimmie Johnson finished third in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway to increase his points lead over Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.

Heading into the weekend, all eyes were on championship contenders, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Prior to Sunday, Johnson’s average finish at Phoenix International Raceway was 6.5 out of 20 races, compared to Kenseth who had an average finish of 17.2 out of 22 races.

Johnson entered the event with a 7 point lead over Kenseth, the same margin he had in 2012 when a right front tire blew out ending his title run. Hoping luck was on his side, Johnson certainly didn’t want to experience déjà vu this weekend.

The No. 48 Lowe’s team unloaded with a fast car and sat on the pole, while Kenseth and the No. 20 Dollar General team struggled and qualified 14th with a lot of traffic to work through. But, it’s never over until it’s over, and when the green flag flew on Sunday, the point’s championship was realistically over. Kind of like Eric Church’s song, “Over When It’s Over”.

Matt Kenseth battled aero tightness all day long. Every pit stop he made, the car appeared to get even worse and more upset. The car got so evil that even crew chief Jason Ratcliff had no idea what to do. Meanwhile, while Kenseth and Ratcliff struggled, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus were cruising inside the top-five nearly all race long besides a few instances where they got off pit sequence.

On lap 164, Kevin Harvick gave Johnson quite a scare when he dove to the low side of the battle between Carl Edwards and forced a three wide scenario. The move sent Edwards into the side of Johnson, and both drivers held on for dear life trying not to wreck. The chain reaction also caused a crash in the back of the pack that brought out a caution.

“I know Carl very well, and I have a ton of respect for him and what he does on the racetrack,” Jimmie Johnson said. “You know, the contact we had was unfortunate, really not three lanes down there, and I was coming around the outside of him, and I guess the 29 had a run on the inside, and once we all went to the brakes we were all committed to three wide in there.”

During the caution, Kenseth’s crew didn’t know if they were changing left sides or rights sides, the hose got caught underneath the car and before it was all over, the pit stop took 25.7 seconds. But, Johnson and Kenseth were only within a few positions of each other on the restart.

“I was starting to get worried at that point in time, but seemed shortly thereafter we left pit road and the 20 was behind me again, they came down pit road, then I felt like I knew where I was, I felt like I knew where I could manage things and it was about trying to get points again, and I found my way up to third,” Johnson said.

Jimmie Johnson was able to make his way through the pack and back into the top-five well before the end of the race. When leader, Carl Edwards ran out of gas coming to take the white flag, Johnson was bumped up to the third position where he finished, just behind teammate Kasey Kahne and race winner Kevin Harvick. When the day finally came to a close, Kenseth brought the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry home in the 23rdposition.

“There’s so many variables in one of our races, I think more variables than any pro sport out there,” Johnson said. “We have all 43 teams playing, driving, racing, all the mechanical components on the race car, pit stops, other issues on other cars that can take you out, tires. There’s a lot of variables, so we don’t take any of these weekends lightly, even with a nice points lead I’m not going to take any week any differently. There’s still a lot of pressure to get the job done, and it’s no lay-up at all.”

With only one race to go, Jimmie Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by 28 and Kevin Harvick by 34 in the Chase standings.

No matter if Kenseth or Harvick win on Sunday, all Johnson has to do is finish 23rd or better next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway to clinch the 2013 championship. Johnson can finish 24th with one lap led or 25th with most laps led.

“If we have a hiccup or some type of mistake in Homestead, it’ll be a race between the 20 and the 29,” Johnson said. “But I feel like if we go down there and run as we should, we should be able to take care of business.”

If the feat can be done, then Johnson will capture his sixth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, just behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty who each have seven.

Hunter Thomas
Hunter Thomas is a journalist who grew up in Darlington, S.C. His first motorsports-based endeavor was working as the Public Relations Director at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C., and his journalism start came while he was freelancing at his hometown newspaper, the News & Press while in college.

Hunter has been working within the NASCAR industry since 2010, and throughout the years, he has done everything from PR/Marketing for drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, to working at Rockingham Speedway. As a journalist, Hunter has covered everything from regional short tracks to NASCAR, ARCA Racing Series, World of Outlaws, Red Bull Global Rallycross, NHRA and much more.

Follow Hunter Thomas on Twitter by following, @HunterThomas08

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