Johnson Capitalizes, Junior Jumps Another Spot
Jimmie Johnson got the first road course win of his career, but several other Championship contenders shook up the standings on Sunday (courtesy Tom Pennington Getty Images Sport)
One month ago, critics speculated that the removal of the spoiler had spoiled Jimmy Johnson’s bid for a fifth straight Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned this fall at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Still others surmised that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had minimal chances of qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. All of this talk was muffled on Sunday at Sonoma for Race 16 of 36 on the road to a Champion being crowned in Miami on Nov. 21.
When NASCAR’s Sprint Cup drivers took to the road course at Infineon, Johnson proved that he still belongs in the conversation to win his fifth straight Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov.19-21). Junior, meanwhile, climbed a spot in the standings to sit in 13th place, just 57 points back of a playoff berth himself. Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned in Miami go on sale July 3 (click here for renewal deadlines). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
Johnson was the benefactor of a late-race mistake by Marcos Ambrose, who surrendered the lead with six laps to go, as Johnson netted the first road course win of his career. One streak still in tact: The No. 48 has been held winless at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 19-21.
“Obviously great day for us,” Johnson said. “Very proud of really the entire weekend. We unloaded, had a plan [and] stuck to it. I got some laps, got a little more familiar with the setup, the car and the track. We made good adjustments throughout Friday and Saturday.”
The win vaulted Johnson four spots in the Sprint Cup standings, with just 10 races before the Chase field is set. The Top 12 drivers in the points standings as of Race 26 (on Sept. 11) will qualify for the Chase “playoffs” that culminate with a Champion being crowned in Miami Nov. 21. Tickets for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend go on sale to the general public July 3 (renewal deadline is June 30). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
Four-time Sprint Cup Series Champions Johnson and Jeff Gordon—along with former champions Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth—are all still in the Championship hunt, as are perennial challengers Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, and South Florida’s Juan Pablo Montoya (see sidebar).
Junior said his career road course-best finish was a result of patience and careful pit work.
"I just kind of sat there and watched the first half of that race and was like, 'Well, a lot of these guys are taking themselves out of the race,’” said NASCAR’s most popular driver. “I wasn't really braking hard or running hard. I was playing around with the tires and seeing what saved them and what didn't.
“Just at the end of the race, I was like, 'Alright, if we're going to get something, let's get it.' And a couple holes opened up for us, and I just got lucky and got us up in the Top 10 with 15 to go, then just tried to hold it."
Gordon—seeking his fifth Sprint Cup Championship Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—finished fifth at Sonoma to move up two spots in the NASCAR Championship standings. "On the restarts, you just got used up," said the driver of the No. 24. "Guys making it three wide—and I’m as guilty of it as anybody. After they started [bumping] me, I had to do it to others. There’s some things that I’m not proud of that I did today.”
Stewart and Martin also used Sunday to better their positions to claim a crown during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “Smoke” finished ninth to move to 10th in the standings, and Martin—who entered the weekend holding on to the coveted 12th spot in the standings—finished 14th Sunday yet still improved to 11th in the points race.
Montoya, whose first NASCAR victory came at Infineon in 2007, recorded his eighth Top 10 of the season by finishing fifth and currently sits 20th in the points standings.
With 10 races to go before the “playoff” field is set, just 161 points separate 12th place Carl Edwards from 20th-place Montoya. Many of NASCAR’s top drivers remain in the hunt for the Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. Chase contenders will be unveiled after Race 26 (Sept. 11) at Richmond.
NASCAR’s elite take one more step toward Miami glory this Sunday at Loudon (1 p.m., TNT TV, PRN Radio) for Race 17 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public on July 3 (renewal deadline is June 30). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
On the Move: South Florida’s Montoya
“That's what we need to do is get good finishes, and days like this when we can finish well are important.”
--South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya, who shaved 28 points off of his Chase “playoff” deficit with a Top 10 finish at Sonoma
South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya registered yet another Top 10 finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma—his eighth Top 10 in the nine races in which in which he has completed all scheduled laps. Sonoma was Race No. 16 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21).
“It was fun,” Montoya said post-race. “This Target Chevrolet was so fast today, I had a blast….It was a little more aggressive than normal, but it was fun.”
In shaving 28 points off his Chase-qualifying deficit, Montoya sits 161 points outside the Top 12 overall points cut-off to qualify for the Sprint Cup “playoffs” that culminate in Miami this November. He has 10 races remaining to accomplish the feat. It is worth noting that one year ago, he rattled off nine Top 10s in a span of 14 races to vault from 15th to a Chase spot.
Montoya has started all 16 races of the Sprint Cup season but has fallen victim to an inordinate amount of engine issues and on-track tangling—which makes the following stat all the more remarkable: The driver of the No. 42 has finished in the Top 10 of all but one 2010 race in which he has completed all scheduled laps. Included in that run for South Florida’s hometown’er are four Top 5s.
Montoya’s next opportunity to gain points comes next weekend at New Hampshire—Race 17 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned in Miami go on sale July 3 (click here for renewal deadlines). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.