Jim­mie John­son reaches third round of play­offs

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

Just like that, Jim­mie John­son has a sev­enth cham­pi­onship within reach. John­son sal­vaged a ho-hum sea­son with a strong win Sun­day at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way that moves him into the third round of the play­offs.

CONCORD, N.C. >> Just like that, Jim­mie John­son has a sev­enth cham­pi­onship within reach.

John­son sal­vaged a ho­hum sea­son with a strong win Sun­day at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way that moves him into the third round of the play­offs. The elim­i­na­tion for­mat had not been good to the six-time cham­pion since its 2014 in­cep­tion: He was elim­i­nated in the sec­ond round of the in­au­gu­ral year, then bounced out of the first round last sea­son.

John­son snapped a ca­reer-worst 24-race los­ing streak while win­ning for the first time since March.

“I just knew it was tak­ing way too long,” he said of the drought.

He has qui­etly turned it up through the first round of the Chase and be­came an of­fi­cial ti­tle con­tender on Sun­day, a day in which nearly half the Chase for the Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship field had trou­ble.

Denny Ham­lin and Kevin Har­vick both had en­gine is­sues. Austin Dil­lon and Chase El­liott were in ac­ci­dents. Joey Logano had tire prob­lems, and Martin Truex Jr. had an elec­tri­cal is­sue as he left pit road af­ter the fi­nal pit stop.

Five Chase driv­ers fin­ished lower than 30th, and Har­vick, the 2014 cham­pion, is last in the stand­ings.

John­son, mean­while, has a record eighth vic­tory at Char­lotte and a spot in the round of eight driv­ers.

He doesn’t have to worry about tire trou­ble, me­chan­i­cal break­downs or a wild ride at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way in the elim­i­na­tion race later this month. John­son is through to the third round, and many of the top names are in trou­ble.

Ham­lin was run­ning sec­ond when his en­gine blew with 25 laps re­main­ing. As the cars left pit road, Truex seemed poised to restart in sec­ond, but he ap­peared to stall and in­stead restarted 16th.

Al­though Truex sal­vaged his day and fin­ished 13th — low­est of the Chase driv­ers still run­ning at the end of the race — Ham­lin wound up 30th.

Dil­lon was 32nd, El­liott 33rd, Logano 36th and Har­vick 38th.

The hec­tic day left only John­son breath­ing easy at the end. Not even Matt Kenseth, who fin­ished sec­ond to John­son, is re­laxed head­ing into races at Kansas and Tal­ladega.

“Would love to have the win, would make you feel a lot bet­ter about the next two weeks,” Kenseth said.

Hur­ri­cane Matthew had washed out most of the week­end at Char­lotte and pushed both the Sprint Cup and Xfin­ity Se­ries races to Sun­day in an 800-mile dou­ble­header.

Sched­uled for both races were Har­vick, Logano, Dil­lon and Brad Ke­selowski.

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