John­son picks up win at Char­lotte

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS -

CON­CORD, N.C. (AP) — Stuck in the long­est los­ing streak of his ca­reer, Jim­mie John­son had a chance for a crit­i­cal win that could sal­vage this ho-hum sea­son for Hen­drick Motorsports.

Hardly a cham­pi­onship con­tender for most of this sea­son, John­son grabbed a vic­tory at sun-soaked Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way when nearly half the ti­tle contenders had hor­ri­ble days.

The win Sun­day was his third of the sea­son, but snapped a 24-race los­ing streak dat­ing to March. John­son is the only Hen­drick driver to visit vic­tory lane this sea­son, and this win earned him an au­to­matic berth into the third round of the play­offs.

It's the first time John­son has made it out of the sec­ond round since the elim­i­na­tion for­mat was in­tro­duced in 2014. He was knocked out at Tal­ladega in the sec­ond round of the in­au­gu­ral sea­son, and was bounced in the first round last year.

Sud­denly, the six-time NAS­CAR cham­pion is a re­al­is­tic con­tender for that elu­sive record-ty­ing sev­enth ti­tle.

"We can't sit back and cele- brate too much on this," John­son said. "We've got to buckle down and get to work to­mor­row and keep ad­vanc­ing our race cars. But this does buy us a cou­ple weeks of free­dom."

The race was orig­i­nally sched­uled for Satur­day night, but Hur­ri­cane Matthew washed out nearly the en­tire week­end and set up an 800-mile dou­ble­header of the Sprint Cup and Xfin­ity Se­ries on Sun­day. When the rac­ing fi­nally be­gan on a beau­ti­ful North Carolina af­ter­noon, it im­me­di­ately shaped up as a Hen­drick kind of day.

John­son and Chase El­liott dom­i­nated the race, run­ning 1-2 for a long stretch, and a Hen­drick vic­tory all but guar­an­teed based on the speed the Chevro­lets showed. El­liott, though, was one of five Chase driv­ers to fin­ish 30th or worse, and it was John­son who had to carry the flag. Fit­ting, though. The win came on the 15th an­niver­sary of John­son's de­but in Cup for Hen­drick, which was at Char­lotte, and was his eighth ca­reer win at the track.

"No­body ever gave up, and you know, we know what a cham­pion Jim­mie is," team owner Rick Hen­drick said.

Mike McCarn/AP

Jim­mie John­son cel­e­brated a win at Char­lotte on Oct. 9.

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