Jimmie Johnson clinches spot in Chase with eighth-place finish at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Jimmie Johnson survived several late-race caution periods at Watkins Glen International on Sunday to finish eighth and clinch a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS leads the championship standings and clinches at least a wild card spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. At this point, according to NASCAR, even if Johnson were to fall out of the top 10, there aren’t any scenarios where two more drivers outside the top 10 could have four or more victories.
Sunday’s race at the 2.45-mile road course wasn’t as fortuitous for Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon were involved in various incidents during the 90-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup event at the 2.45-mile road course and finished inside the top 36.
Here are the race recaps by driver:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 34th.
Recap: Kasey Kahne started Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen International from the 19th position and picked up a spot within the first four laps. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 7, crew chief Kenny Francis told Kahne to save fuel. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS restarted 18th and collected another position by the time the caution flag was waved on Lap 14. Francis reminded Kahne to save fuel, while Kahne told Francis the car’s handling was good all over the 2.45-mile road course. Kahne cracked the top 15 on Lap 27 and was running 13th one lap later as green-flag pit stops were underway. He stopped for four tires and fuel just before the third caution flag of the day was waved on Lap 35. Kahne restarted 16th behind teammate Jimmie Johnson on Lap 38 and held that position when the caution flag was issued one lap later for a spin on-track. NASCAR officials exchanged the yellow flag for a red one on Lap 40 because of the amount of oil and water on the track. After a 22-minute cleanup period, the field returned to green-flag racing. Kahne improved to run sixth by Lap 60, when the yellow flag was displayed. He reported that his No. 5 Chevy SS had developed a loose-handling condition, and Francis made plans to address that during a four-tire, fuel stop on Lap 61. The stop cost Kahne track position, and he restarted 15th on Lap 64. He began his march forward and was racing hard for position on the Lap 80 restart when he was collected in a multi-car incident. Running 13th at the time, Kahne ultimately returned to the track and was scored with the 34th-place finish.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 36th.
Recap: Jeff Gordon lined up 28th in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen International. Gordon initially reported a tight-handling condition that crew chief Alan Gustafson attempted to address during the first caution period on Lap 7. Most of the field stayed out during this early yellow-flag period, so Gordon restarted 36th and began to work his way forward. On the restart, Gordon improved five positions with four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel. Gordon was running 26th on Lap 14 and looking for his next pass when his No. 24 Chevy SS was forced outside. He spun across the track and came to a rest after a hard hit on the inside guard rail. “I had a big run on the (No.) 11, and I got up on him and the nose completely took off,” Gordon said after the incident. “It put me in the wall and put me in the grass, and from that point, I was just a passenger. We’ll get it fixed and go out there and ride around.” Gordon crossed the finish line 36th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Eighth.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson rolled off the grid 18th on Sunday at Watkins Glen International and improved one spot by Lap 7, when the caution flag was waved. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS continued to improve his position, despite reporting a tight-handling condition, through the next two caution periods. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus opted to stay on-track during the first two caution periods, and Johnson cracked the top 15 on Lap 21. Nine laps later, he made a four-tire stop during green-flag conditions. Johnson reported no major issues with his No. 48 Chevy SS and said the biggest problem was setting up to pass. Shortly after the green-flag stop, Johnson was running 15th when the caution flag was waved on Lap 39 for a spin on the track. NASCAR officials exchanged the yellow flag for a red one on Lap 40 because of the amount of oil and water on the track. After a 22-minute cleanup period, the field returned to green-flag racing. Johnson restarted 15th on Lap 42 and was running 10th within one lap. He climbed to third by Lap 59, when an untimely caution period interrupted green-flag stops. Johnson had to give up track position to make a four-tire, fuel stop on Lap 61. He lined up 15th for the Lap 64 restart and was running 10th when a late-race caution reset the field. Johnson told Knaus he had saved his tires and lined up 12th for the Lap 80 restart. A multi-car incident unfolded during the restart, and Johnson reported that he sustained some right-side door contact. The damage was minimal, but Knaus encouraged Johnson that he would roll off 11th for the next restart. The inside lane, Knaus said, should be “less exciting.” Predictably, another caution flag was waved within the next circuit. Johnson lined up 10th for the restart and held on for the eighth-place finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 30th.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 15th in his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS and improved four spots within the first four laps. He picked up another spot by the time the caution flag was waved three laps later. Crew chief Steve Letarte told Earnhardt to stay out and save fuel around Watkins Glen’s 2.45-mile road course. Earnhardt restarted 20th and held that position when the caution flag was waved again on Lap 14. Earnhardt radioed to Letarte that the car was a little loose in Turns 1 and 11. Letarte began to work on a plan, and the duo opted to wait for a green-flag stop on Lap 30 to give the No. 88 Chevy four tires, fuel and make adjustments for more grip in Turns 1 and 11. Earnhardt improved to 17th by Lap 39, when the caution flag was displayed for a spin on the track. NASCAR officials exchanged the yellow flag for a red one on Lap 40 because of the amount of oil and water on the track. After a 22-minute cleanup period, the field returned to green-flag racing. Green-flag stops were underway and Earnhardt was running fifth when the caution flag was waved on Lap 59. The untimely yellow flag cost Earnhardt track position as he had to pit afterward for four tires and fuel on Lap 61. Back on track, Earnhardt improved to 14th with 25 laps to go. He lined up 13th for the restart with 10 laps to go and was racing hard for position when he was collected in a multi-car incident. Earnhardt was able to return to the track and finished 30th.