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Allen Lessels' On Motorsports: Jimmie Johnson remains the driver to beat
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) leads the way during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Perhaps the race for the 2013 Sprint Cup championship is all but over. Perhaps they ought to be inscribing Jimmie Johnson's name on the trophy this week. Maybe a sixth Cup is just a matter of time and playing out the rest of this long NASCAR season.
He came up with a big result, though. Johnson dealt with some major adversity over the weekend and checked in with a fifth-place finish in a race won by one of his buddies, Brian Vickers, and managed to extend his lead in the Cup point standings.
"I didn't even look at that," said crew chief Chad Knaus of the points race. "We do it week by week, man. Whatever we can do, we do."
They did it here.
The team had a problem with the assembly of a piece of equipment in the front of the Lowe's Chevrolet on Friday. As a result, the car failed its post-qualifying inspection late on Friday and Johnson's qualifying time, which was second only to that of pole-sitter Brad Keselowski, was thrown out.
No fists went through walls, Johnson said. There were no outbursts. Frustration did not flow.
"Not when it's self-inflicted," Johnson said. "If it was something else. . . . When it's self-inflicted, we have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Johnson charged through the field and avoided trouble and picked off cars that are not nearly his equal in the early-going. He was 22nd at Lap 36 and was 14th at Lap 100.
The going, as expected, got tougher as they went and they never did get to the very front of the race.
Passing was difficult and Johnson did much of his work on restarts.
"You had to make quick work of people on restarts and then we all kind of fell into line and you'd have to wait for the guy in front of you to bobble and make a mistake," he said. "But these guys are all pretty good out there and there weren't many opportunities to get, but we just fought for them through the day."
Keselowski finished fourth, and needed that result badly after a string of tough results, and Aric Almirola was fifth.
Johnson ran his lead to 56 points over Clint Bowyer, who is second in points, and 73 over Carl Edwards in third. He'll own first place at least through the next race at Indianapolis on July 28 since a maximum of 48 points are available for each event.
Most of those racers have more to worry about than chasing Johnson.
Seven races now remain until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 15 and the battle continues over the 12 spots in the Chase.
He moved from 13th in the standings to ninth, far from safe but going in the right direction.
Keselowski had been going backwards in the standings and had managed only one top-10 finish in his last 10 races.
"We couldn't quite get what we needed, but at the end it was a solid top-10 finish," Knaus said. "I can't complain a whole lot. That's what our goal was, to get back in the top 10 and we were able to pull that off ... I'm not happy, but pleased."
There is lots of time left.