Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – With more than just a split second to think about it, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson might have made a different choice.
But the Hendrick Motorsports veteran had a drought-breaking victory in his sights and confidence in his No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and that proved an unfortunate combination—one that cost him a spot in the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
On the last lap of Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road course, Martin Truex Jr. was leading with Johnson in close pursuit. Johnson closed up to Truex’s rear bumper through Turns 13 and 14 (Turns 3 and 4 on the NASCAR oval) and took the inside line into the frontstretch chicane.
But Johnson overdrove the corner, spun and backed into Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry between Turns 16 and 17, knocking Truex’s car toward the outside wall in the tri-oval. Ryan Blaney charged between the two wrecked cars and won the race.
Johnson rolled across the finish line in eighth and finished the event in a three-way tie for the two final berths in second round of the Playoffs. But he lost a tiebreaker to Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola based on best finish in the first round and consequently lost a chance to compete for a series leading eighth title.
Entering the race, Johnson had suffered through a career-long 51-race winless streak, and the long-awaited victory was there for the taking.
“Yeah, I had been so good into that final braking zone, I really felt like I could put some pressure on (Truex) and take a shot at it,” Johnson said. “I got out of the chicane on the back straightaway better than he did and put some pressure on him. Got him loose and off the bottom (on the oval), and I thought that was my chance.
“Unfortunately, down here through the bumps coming into that braking zone, I just locked up the rears and couldn’t control my car and spun. I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly I did and spun him around. Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their day, which I feel bad about.
“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win, and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, 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.”
KYLE LARSON BOUNCES OFF THE WALL TO KEEP PLAYOFF HOPES ALIVE
After dominating most of Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, Kyle Larson thought his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff run was over when he plowed into a Turn 1 wreck after a restart on Lap 104 of 109.
Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was all but destroyed. The right front suspension was damaged and the right front tire canted at an angle that made it all but impossible for Larson to turn left.
With one circuit left at the 2.28-mile, 17-turn Charlotte Road Course, Larson was the last car on the lead lap, one point out of the final Playoff position with a car he could barely control. As Larson approached the backstretch chicane, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun in the last corner, and his car turned backwards and lost power.
As Earnhardt tried to get his car re-fired, Larson negotiated Turn 3, bounced hard off the (NASCAR oval) Turn 4 wall and kept going through the chicane. Before crossing the finish line, Larson bounced off the outside wall again. But he finished one position ahead of Earnhardt, enough to earn a tie for 11th in the standings with Aric Almirola and Jimmie Johnson.
Larson and Almirola advanced to the Round of 12 on a tiebreaker based on best finish in the Round of 16.
“I ran hard through, whatever, (NASCAR Turns 1 and 2) over there and through the Bus Stop (backstretch chicane), and then blew a right front (in the) center of (Turns) 3 and 4 and plowed the wall, I was like, ‘Crap, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get down to make the chicane, but luckily it came down off the banking and I could turn right okay.
“So I got through the 16th corner, and then (in) 17 I hit the wall again on the frontstretch, and the 96 (Earnhardt) was stalled the whole time. I think they told me the 96 was stalled when I was like at the backstretch over there, and he wasn’t able to get his car re-fired…
“He was like 100 feet from the start finish line. I could start to see him creep in when I was getting to 16. I was like, ‘Gosh, don’t go, don’t go,’ and we were able to make it. Hey, I was pretty lucky.”
WILD RESTART ENDS IMPROBABLE RUN FOR BRAD KESELOWSKI
Brad Keselowski wrecked his primary car in practice.
He spun his No. 2 Team Penske Ford, a backup car, in a Lap 49 dustup with Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota in the frontstretch chicane.
Despite those issues, Keselowski managed to lead 29 laps in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 and had a shot to win the race until he locked his brakes into Turn 1 while leading after a restart with six laps left.
The 15-car wreck in Turn 1 also eliminated the Toyota of Kyle Busch and crippled the dominant car of Kyle Larson, who had led 47 laps before the accident.
“I don’t know—maybe we all overdrove it,” Keselowski said of the massive crash. Maybe the track had something on it. I don’t know. I got in the corner. I didn’t feel like I got in it… I got in hard, but not like ridiculously hard, and it just locked up. I couldn’t get the tire to unlock, so I felt really, really dumb when I hit the wall, and then I got back in the care center and saw the replay and saw everybody kind of did the same thing.
“I don’t know. It’s frustrating, but I really have to give a lot of credit to (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the team on this Truck Alliance Parts Ford. This car was a rocket. I wrecked the car in practice and we unloaded this car just for the race, and it was screaming fast. I thought we were going to win today. It just didn’t come together.”