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NASCAR Cup Series

New Crew Chief Aboard, Johnson Continues to Struggle

A big question entering the 2019 season was will Jimmie Johnson be able to rebound with a new crew chief, and after six races, we are still asking the same question.

Partnered with Kevin Meendering, the year started off hopeful with a win in The Clash and a top-10 in the Daytona 500; however the No. 48 team has since gone downhill yet again, with one top-15 in the following five races.

The most disappointing result came this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where his starting position of 11th was the closest to the top-10 he would be all race. Johnson finished 16th in Stage 1, and 23rd in Stage 2, seeming to fall further back as the STP 500 went on. He would eventually end the day two laps down in 24th.

The veteran did not menace words in a post-race tweet saying, “Yesterday was a rough one, there’s no way around it. It’s a new day and a day we are using to become stronger.”

The real kicker though?

Not only did he tie his worst finish of the year, but his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate, Chase Elliott, proved to be one of the best cars in the field, coming home in the runner-up position.

Now, to Johnson’s credit, the Hendrick cars have seemed behind this year. After all, Elliott’s second-place is the first top-five all season for the organization, which is concerning in its own right. However, this is a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, one of the best the sport has ever seen, continuing to struggle, and not due to any lack of effort either.

The team made efforts to do better this season, which included the separation of Johnson from his longtime crew chief, Chad Knaus, replacing him with Meendering. It was a move that could be argued needed to be done for both, and not the first time a legendary Hendrick driver has moved on despite success from a team member; see the career of Jeff Gordon.

Now, it’s still early in the season, and the duo of Johnson and Meendering are still probably developing a bond and there is the possibility that we are just seeing growing pains, and everything will be better eventually. However, the fact the 2019 No. 48 crew is still seeing the same struggles the 2018 team.

It would be easy to say that they have a chance of rebounding at the upcoming tracks on the schedule, but you could have said the same thing about Martinsville, where he had won nine times.

So, what now?

There was an old saying in NASCAR a few years ago and it went like this never count out Jimmie Johnson.

You still shouldn’t, but at the same time, the current status of the No. 48 is alarming to say the least.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Byron’s DAYTONA 500 Pole Draws Parallels to Johnson and Knaus

Seventeen years ago this month, a pair of the most formidable sports dynasties of this century began with two of the most successful athlete and coach pairings of all-time.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick paired for their first full-time season together in 2001 with the New England Patriots, then going on to win its first Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2002.

One week later, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus began their tenure together by claiming the 2002 DAYTONA 500 pole in Johnson’s fourth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.

Both feats came as upsets in their individual sports and also marked the start of two historic runs.

Each duo has since gone onto win a record number of championships and earn their places among the best of all-time.

Seventeen years later to the exact dates, Brady and Belichick claimed their sixth championship and one week later, Knaus again led the DAYTONA 500 pole-winning team.

However, this time it was with another young racer as Knaus begins his first season with William Byron after moving on from the seven-time championship-winning No. 48 team with Johnson.

Knaus began his career with Johnson by claiming the top starting spot in the “Great American Race” and now Byron has followed suit with Knaus calling the shots.

While one pole at a superspeedway doesn’t indicate much, reflecting on the significance of the achievement in Johnson and Knaus’ careers opens the possibilities for Byron to replicate that success.

Byron entered his rookie year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last season as one of the most promising talents to emerge out of the developmental ranks in years. He dominated during his time in the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, winning a combined 11 races in two seasons and taking the 2017 Xfinity Series championship.

Prospects for the 21-year-old were high entering the premiere level but tougher competition and a steeper learning curve tempered expectations.

While the Hendrick Motorsports driver didn’t dominate in his first year as he had in the other two series, he showed signs of strength and won rookie of the year honors.

Now he enters his sophomore year with more experience, both behind the wheel and on the pit box. Knaus is arguably the most talented crew chief in NASCAR history and his pairing with a rising star has laid the groundwork to launch the next dynasty.

Even if the No. 24 team had not posted the fastest lap Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, the ingredients for this duo to be successful still exist.

As Byron continues to grow comfortable behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car, the talent he showed in his rise to the top level will likely emerge. Coupled with the wealth of knowledge Knaus brings to the table could allow them to put up impressive numbers. 

No one could predict what Johnson and Knaus would accomplish after winning the DAYTONA 500 pole 17 years ago. It’s unknown what Knaus and Byron will do together. However, knowing Byron’s talent and the seven-time championship-winning crew chief’s capabilities means this pole could also be reflected back on as having begun a new dynasty.

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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway

As the field rode around the top lane in single-file formation, the begging began for something, anything to happen to make the Advance Auto Parts Clash exciting. Let’s just say that we got more than we bargained for.

Being an exhibition event with no points on the line, the feeling is that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars will do whatever it takes to win. It’s also a good time to try things to learn what is possible for Thursday night’s Gander RV Duels and the Daytona 500.

Instead, as we have grown used to on the restrictor plate tracks, the drivers chose to ride in line and conserve their equipment, ready to make a run at the end of the race. The ARCA Menards Series Lucas Oil 150 was the same way on Saturday night, with the top-seven just riding until the late-race caution. Is it time that we just cut the event from 75 laps to 25 and be done with it?

The difficulty to pass was attributed to the cooler temperatures by many of the drivers, as the heat produces a slick track, bringing handling back into the equation, causing drivers to lift and create more runs. After a pair of days with cool wet weather, let’s hope that things warm up by Sunday or else the Daytona 500 may turn into a yawn fest. 

Ultimately, the move that changed the game came at the front of the field, with Jimmie Johnson pulling out of line in second to make a run underneath Paul Menard for the lead. With weather closing in, and having got a run, he knew it was now or never to do something. Unfortunately, that did not go as planned for him, or the rest of the field, with 17 of the 20 cars catching damage in the ensuing wreck.

No matter how you look at the incident, you could place blame on Johnson for the move, and the contact. You could also place blame on Menard as he came down a little, just as his spotter Joey Meier described with, “He zigged when you zagged.” There’s also the product of side-draft pulling them together unexpectedly – just like we saw in the practice crash on Saturday with Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott.

Either way, wrecks of this nature are a product of restrictor plate racing in having everyone packed together. They happen every year, and you just hope you’re not in it.

Ultimately with NASCAR calling the event shortly there after for the weather, it makes it look uglier. However, there was nothing they could do as the rain continued through the rest of the night. 

Let’s just hope things go smoother on Thursday as we’re already up to 21 wrecked cars in two days of competition.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

William Byron earns the Busch Pole Award for the Daytona 500; Hendrick sweeps front row

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Paired for the first time with crew chief Chad Knaus, sophomore driver William Byron put his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on the pole for the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), leading a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the top four spots and extending that organization’s dominance in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Daytona International Speedway.

Byron edged last year’s pole winner, Alex Bowman, by .036 seconds for the top starting spot in the 61st running of NASCAR’s most prestigious race with a lap at 194.305 seconds (46.319 seconds) in the final round of knockout qualifying.

Bowman’s lap at 194.154 seconds knocked seven-time Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson (193.807 mph) off the front row for the 500. Johnson, in turn, beat two-time Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott (193.782 mph) for the third fastest lap by .006 seconds.

The Busch Pole Award was the first for Byron in 37 tries. The 21-year-old is the eighth driver to contribute to the total of 13 Daytona 500 poles won by Hendrick Motorsports, which won its fifth straight.

Only Byron and Bowman are locked into their starting sports for next Sunday’s race. The remaining 38 starting positions will be determined in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duel 150-mile qualifying races (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“We felt we were prepared and ready and this was sort of the first step of our process together,” Byron said of his new partnership with Knaus, who moved to the No. 24 car this year after winning seven titles as Johnson’s crew chief.

“Hopefully, it goes well next Sunday. We can kind of hang out during the Duel races, learn a little bit. It’s awesome.”

The pole was the 700th for Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

As fast his car was, Byron acknowledged his lap wasn’t quite perfect.

“We lacked a little bit getting up to speed,” Byron said. “I think a little bit too much wheel spin. This thing is fast, and it’s obviously a lot of credit to the guys. I’m looking forward to next Sunday.”

In a session that both establishes the front row for next Sunday and sets the lineups for the Duels, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Hemric qualified fifth in his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, giving Chevy the top five laps in the final round.

Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano was sixth in the fastest Ford—the first competitive outing in the Cup series for the new Mustang—and 2017 champ Martin Truex Jr. was seventh in the quickest Toyota entry.

Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Denny Hamlin completed the top 12. The last driver to make a qualifying run in the first round, Truex knocked Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch (13th) out of the top 12.

“We ran about what we thought we would, maybe a tick better,” Busch said. “Didn’t expect the rest of the field to be as fast as they are, so we’re a little farther down on the lineup than we’d like to be.”

Two of the six drivers in open cars—those without charters—locked themselves into the Daytona 500. The first was Tyler Reddick, who was a strong 16th in the first round. The second was Casey Mears, who edged the non-chartered No. 71 Chevrolet of Ryan Truex by .028 seconds for the 26th fastest lap.

Truex, Brendan Gaughan (31st), Parker Kligerman (36th) and Joey Gase (42nd) will vie in Thursday night’s Gander RV Duels for the two remaining berths in the Great American Race.

Categories
News

Jimmie Johnson wins rain-shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson, who had crashed in the past six Advance Auto Parts Clash races at Daytona International Speedway, found a way to win the 2019 version of the season-opening exhibition race—by helping to trigger a wreck that eliminated nearly everyone else.

Moments before a rainstorm halted the action and ultimately made the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race official after 59 of 75 scheduled laps, Johnson—running second on Lap 56—pulled to the inside of leader Paul Menard, who moved down the track slightly as Johnson was attempting a close side-draft.

Contact between the cars in Turn 3 sent Menard spinning and caused a massive pileup behind him, damaging 17 of the 20 cars to varying degrees. Johnson took the lead in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and was declared the winner after NASCAR red-flagged the race because of rain for the third time.

The victory was Johnson’s second in the non-points Clash.

“Knowing the rain was coming—we could see it coming—and I knew that was probably my lap to make the move,” said Johnson, who suffered through a winless 2018. “I had a great run down the back. I got below him (Menard) before he blocked it, and then he came down a little bit, I think to defend and block.

“I got that move inside him, and I was hopeful the 1 (Kurt Busch) would follow me through, but I hate to see all these cars tore up. I think it was a racing thing more than anything. I feel sorry for Paul. I feel sorry for all the teams that lost race cars, but I’m here to win races, and this Ally car was fast.”

Johnson’s victory came in his first competitive outing with new crew chief Kevin Meendering. Earlier on Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron claimed the Busch Pole Award for the Daytona 500 in his first qualifying attempt with Johnson’s former crew chief, Chad Knaus.

“I did mention to Chad that he was able to win me my first pole here for the 500, and he did the same for William,” Johnson said.

“I’m really happy for those guys. With this group of Ally team members I have behind me, these guys have been working so hard and we’re off to a great start this year.”

Kurt Busch, who was following Johnson on the backstretch, dodged the melee and finished second. Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney were third and fourth, with Alex Bowman completing the top five.

Menard had led 51 laps to that point in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford and had controlled the 20-car field from the head of the outside lane.

“Jimmie pulled out, and I kind of moved down a little bit, and the next thing I know I get turned in the left rear,” Menard said.

“Just aggressive. Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks. I had a really fast Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. Led a lot of laps but tore up a car for no reason.

“It was a pretty tame race up until that point. We knew that last restart (on Lap 48) was basically a new race—a little dash for cash to the end. It was definitely expected. I’m surprised we actually got single-file up top again after that last restart, but I knew something like that was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Johnson And Byron Optimistic Heading Into New Year

A new year brings a fresh start for Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers William Byron and Jimmie Johnson, both of whom will have new crew chiefs in 2019.

Chad Knaus, who had been with the No. 48 team since 2002, will move to the No. 24 team, with Kevin Meendering, taking over his former role.

When this was announced last October, it sent shockwaves throughout the sport; however, Johnson recently revealed he felt it was something that needed to happen.

“It definitely is a new challenge and I welcome it,” Johnson said. “One thing that I did know was that the way things were going and where Chad (Knaus) and I ended up, that needed to change. It wasn’t bringing the best out of either one of us and we weren’t delivering like we needed to. So, I knew that much, for sure, last year. And then I’m just excited to get this fresh start and see where it takes us.”

The move came after the seven-time champion’s worst season to date, where for the first time he failed to win a race and only scored two top-five’s. Last year also proved to be difficult for Bryon, who was the only Hendrick driver to miss the playoffs.

“There really weren’t a lot of takeaways for us from last year other than learning the Cup Series, so I am putting that year behind us,” Byron said. “ This year working with Chad (Knaus) is going to be exciting. I feel like we’ve started that process already, just doing things together as a team. I feel like it is growing, and I feel like by the time we get to Daytona, we should be up and rolling.”

Though the new season hasn’t started yet, the 21-year-old has already taken notice of what it will be like working with Knaus.

“His work ethic is really high,” Byron said. “That is important as a crew chief to have that work ethic. That is really the biggest thing I can take away from him. I will try to apply that as best I can to what I am doing. I don’t have to worry about him doing his job, or worry about what the team is doing.”

Meanwhile, for his 43-year-old teammate, a new crew chief means an unusual obstacle, one that he has not had to deal with before.

“I’ve never been in this position, I know that much,” Johnson said. “There is a lot of ‘new’ to it, there’s no way around that. But, I do have the history of knowing everybody here at the shop and the history of the No. 48 and all that, so it doesn’t feel totally new, but largely new, for sure.”

However, with the Daytona 500 on the horizon, the motivation is high within the organization with Byron looking to prove he belongs and Johnson wanting to show there is plenty left in the tank.

“The past is great and I’ve won seven championships and 83 races, but that’s then and this is now and I’m still as hungry and focused and dedicated as ever,” Johnson said. “And, having a year like I did last year also ramps-up the intensity some, so I’m just ready to get going.”

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 
Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

SOCIAL TRACKING: Jimmie Johnson and Fernando Alonso Swap Rides

In the early morning hours on Monday while most people slept in North America, Jimmie Johnson made the trip to the Bahrain International Circuit to swap rides with Fernando Alonso.

The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion got the opportunity to drive a 2013 McLaren MP4-28, while the Spaniard got behind the wheel of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. The pair aren’t the first to swap rides, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon being the first to do so, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart.

Throughout the day, several cameras taped the action on and off the track, with footage to be aired down the road, per Johnson. At the same time, both McLean and Hendrick Motorsports shared clips across social media. Here are some of the best moments from the day.

https://twitter.com/McLarenF1/status/1066936345854205953

https://twitter.com/TeamHendrick/status/1067012338799267841

https://twitter.com/McLarenF1/status/1066952786598916096

https://twitter.com/McLarenF1/status/1066965550302150656

https://twitter.com/JimmieJohnson/status/1067041552994877440

https://twitter.com/McLarenF1/status/1067049769036644353

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Hendrick Motorsports Shifts Crew Chiefs Around

The dream team of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson will not be together in 2019 as Hendrick Motorsports will be splitting them up.

“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said. “They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. What they’ve accomplished together has been absolutely remarkable and will be celebrated for generations. This has been an incredible, storybook run.”

Johnson and Knaus are in the midst of their 17th season working together, making them the longest-running crew chief-driver combination in the garage. The pair won a record-tying seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championships together.

“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years,” Hendrick said. “They’re fierce competitors, great friends and have immense respect for one another. They also fight like brothers. All three of us agree it’s finally time for new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization.”

Johnson will instead will be led by Kevin Meendering, who has currently crew chiefing for Elliott Sadler in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at JR Motorsports. In three seasons together, Meendering has led Sadler to three wins, 38 top-five’s, and 73 top-10’s. Meendering is not new to Hendrick Motorsports, having spent 16 years there beginning with a high-school internship in the chassis department.

“Over the last couple of years, he’s been one of the most sought-after talents in the garage,” Hendrick said of Meendering. “Kevin is an impressive person who came up in our organization and will hit the ground running on day one. We already know how well he works with our people and that he’s a respected, forward-thinking crew chief. Having worked with a veteran driver like Elliott Sadler for three years is extremely valuable experience. He’s the right fit for Jimmie at the right time. With an established No. 48 team behind them, I believe they will perform at a winning level next season and chase that eighth championship.”

Knaus, meanwhile, will be partnered with William Byron for his sophomore campaign in the No. 24 Chevrolet. Knaus has a history with the No. 24, as he was part of the original Rainbow Warriors team from 1993 to 1998 under the direction of Ray Evernham. 

“You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent,” Hendrick said. “The two of them are a great match, and I’m excited to see what they can do together. Chad has the Rainbow Warriors pedigree and truly appreciates the history of the No. 24. I’ve asked him to build another winner and given him the green light to put his stamp on the team and do it his way.”

Byron’s current crew chief Darian Grubb will be promoted to technical director, an executive leadership role supporting Hendrick Motorsports’ engineering and vehicle development resources.  

“Darian has established himself as a respected leader in our company, and we’ve seen him thrive in an executive role,” Hendrick said. “We’ve identified opportunities for improvement, and we know having him step up to technical director will help move us forward in those areas. He’s a champion who brings a wealth of knowledge that will continue to benefit us.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Bank of America ROVAL 400

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have been entertaining already, and we’re just getting started with the first round. 

Ever since the announcement of the layout and testing, the ROVAL has sparked fear for the drivers heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

If you were watch through just the first two stages, though, it appeared they worked out all of the kinks. Just a few drivers got off the track during those laps, with clean racing throughout the field. It got spread out at times, but there’s no denying that the infield portion and front stretch chicane did not promote passing as drivers moved their way up and down the grid.  

Let’s face it – though. The fear probably sparked a calmness, just be clean and solid through there as once we got to the last stage, you could stay the gloves were essentially off. Everything went haywire quickly, beginning with A.J. Allmendinger‘s dives on the restarts. However, it still appeared there’d be a calm ending with everyone wondering whether the leaders had enough fuel as there were small battles for position.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. then changed everything, as he got into the wall and brought out the caution with 10 laps to go. With any road course, we have learned something – the later in the race, the less patience, and that only means one thing – chaos.

Tums Heartburn Turn 1 had sparked a lot of conversation going into the weekend about how tight it would be on restarts, and that showed. Race leader Brad Keselowski, along with the first four cars on the outside, overshot the entry and hit the wall. 

“We’d just been there the longest we had been on tires and I guess all of us are just stupid and don’t know where to break for the corner considering what our tires look like and so we just all drove off into a 90-degree wall for something to do because we had nothing else better to do,” Kyle Busch said. “That kind of sucked, but guess it’s a good thing it didn’t matter for us.”

It appeared Martin Truex Jr. inheriting the lead would allow him to get another win this year after getting a good restart with three laps to go. That was until Jimmie Johnson entered the fray. It was shaping up to be a close battle and would’ve been interesting to see them go through the final chicane side-by-side to the line. However, a wheel-hop for the driver of the No. 48 caused him to spin, tagging Truex in the process, sending them both around.

Ryan Blaney, who had quietly kept himself in the top-10 throughout the race and avoided chaos despite being right in the middle through the final laps, got by the pair and scored the victory.

Risk vs. Reward is something that will be discussed for days for Johnson now. If he would’ve finished second, he moves on to the Round of 12 of the playoffs. Instead, the eighth-place finish sees him eliminated in a tie-breaker. It’d be easy to say that he should’ve given up the fight for the win, but we’re looking at a seven-time champion who hasn’t won a race this season. Additionally, his Hendrick Motorsports team hasn’t shown the speed to be right there and contend for the championship with the likes of Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing. Did desperation take over?

“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive,” he said post-race. “But we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.”

The incident for Johnson turned into the perfect blessing for Kyle Larson, though.

Larson had led 47 laps before he was involved in the crash on the restart with eight laps to go. If Johnson doesn’t make the move, Larson is the one of the four drivers who does not move onto the next round. However, managing to drive a hurt car around the 17-turn course, and make a last lap pass on Jeffrey Earnhardt – who had been wrecked off the final turn by Daniel Hemric, allowed him to finish  25th and advance to the next round.

“We had a lot of right-front damage and we kind of knew the right front would blow if I ran hard,” he said. “But, I ran hard through (Turns) 3 and 4 and blew a right front and got into the fence. I could see the No. 96 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) and I knew I needed that point to get to the tie-breaker and hit the wall again. Thankfully, we got the tie-breaker.”

Along with Johnson, the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin failed to transfer, along with Austin Dillon. Jones and Dillon saw their races end early due to damage, while Hamlin had to make an unscheduled pit stop early and was unable to make up the track position needed.

The unexpected chaos of the ROVAL, combined with close action at Richmond and mayhem as Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it’s safe to say we’re off to an exciting start for this year’s playoffs. So, what can we expect in the Round of 12 with a monster in Dover International Speedway, the craziness of plate racing at Talladega Superspeedway, and a trip to the windy city with Kansas Speedway?

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

ROVAL Leaves Some Drivers Heartbroken and Some Relieved

The inaugural Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ended bittersweet for some.

With all the hype leading to this historic race weekend, the action displayed on the track was what fans were expecting. This elimination race had many wondering how it was going to turn out, especially how it was the first time running on that track.

Kurt Busch officially led the first lap at the ROVAL but lost the lead early on to Kyle Larson where he went on to lead 47 laps and win stage one. The winner of the event Ryan Blaney captured stage two.

Despite Stanton Barrett’s head-on collision with the wall on Lap 13, the racing was quiet, and it seemed like we were poised to witness a calm ending to the round of 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

But the event took a turn of events that had fans screaming and shouting until the checkered flag.

During the final stage, Brad Keselowski was leading the field in front of Larson as he would catch him and lose ground to him. A caution with under 10 laps to go for an incident involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led to a restart where the carnage began.

Keselowski ran into the wall going into turn one which collected a few drivers including Larson, who was now on the edge of being eliminated after having one of the best cars in the field.

“I was going to struggle to make the corner and then the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski), he just went head on into the wall,” Larson said. “I was hoping I would have enough room to squeak by him, but I got into him and destroyed the right-front of our car. So, I mean I still don’t really know if we are in or not, but we had a great Clover by First Data Chevy today, led a bunch of laps, would have liked it to have played out there and just run to the end there. I was saving fuel and it sounded like the No. 2 was really short on fuel. I felt like I could have won, but the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) ended up spinning out and the caution came out.”

After pitting when the caution finally came back out, the No. 42 team did all they could to repair the damages on his race car.

But the challenging work paid off for Larson as they received the relieving news after the race that they got passed the elimination.

“I had kind of given up there the last lap,” Larson added. “I saw the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) made a couple of passes and that’s who it sounded like we were in the points battle with. I knew I was screwed. And then they said they were all crashing and it had to have been 45 seconds by the time I got back over there. I ran really hard through (Turns) 1 and 2. We had a lot of right-front damage and we kind of knew the right front would blow if I ran hard. But, I ran hard through (Turns) 3 and 4 and blew a right front and got into the fence. I could see the No. 96 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) and I knew I needed that point to get to the tie-breaker and hit the wall again. Thankfully, we got the tie-breaker. At the same time, I’m happy to make it to the next round.”

Aric Almirola was the other driver that won the tie-breaker as he goes on to the round of 12 for the first time in his career. He was one of the drivers that received damage from the wreck on the restart with less than 10 laps to go.

“That crash, getting into turn one, really – actually the caution before that, when we were on a fuel strategy we were gonna be fine,” Almirola said. “It was all gonna work out fine and then the 17 buried it in the tire barriers or something and caused a caution and that really changed everything, jumbled up the strategy and just put us in a really vulnerable spot. I’m so proud of these guys. We’re moving on to the round of 12 and we’ll go get ‘em in Dover.”

After all the mayhem and the conclusion of the race, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was one of the drivers that did not advance to the next round.

Johnson ran down Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap for the lead but wheel-hopped into final chicane, spinning and collecting Truex in the process.

Ultimately, a second-place finish would have been enough for Johnson to continue running for a championship, but a costly mistake basically put his season to an end.

“Yeah, I was more worried about the win than anything else. I hate that I started wheel-hopping and took Martin (Truex, Jr.) and me out.” Johnson said. “That’s the last thing I wanted to do. I put pressure on him into Turn 3. He washed up and I thought I was going to be in the prime braking zone going into that final turn and have a shot at it. I’m on to the brakes and started locking the rears and wheel-hopping and then, I didn’t think I hit him at first. I knew I was spinning, obviously, but I guess I collected him in my spin. I certainly regret doing that. And then, ultimately, we were in a transfer position and didn’t get it. I was just going for the win. Wins are so important. And the veteran could have taken a safe route and didn’t, and unfortunately took us out of the Playoffs and took out the No. 78 (Truex, Jr.)”

The other three drivers that failed to advance to the round of 12 were Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones.

As we go onto Dover International Speedway, we can say that the ROVAL was a success.

We witnessed one of the most exciting elimination races in Playoff history. But was today the start of a ROVAL revolution for NASCAR? Whether or not NASCAR decides to add more courses like this to the schedule, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL passed the test and should be here to stay for seasons to come.

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