Johnson's championship hopes take hit in Kansas

Johnson was spun and was sent hard into the SAFER barrier of the 267-lap Kansas race on Lap 87.

Johnson's championship hopes take hit in Kansas
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – When Jimmie Johnson emerged from the infield care center about a quarter of the way through Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, there was nothing wrong with him physically.

Badly beaten and badly bruised, however, were his hopes of winning a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Johnson was spun and was sent hard into the SAFER barrier of the 267-lap Kansas race on Lap 87.

“Obviously,” Johnson, with hands in the the pockets of his driver’s suit and eyes lowered against the bright Kansas sun, said, “a big hit in championship points.”

Top 10 was definitely within reach, I think a top-five would have been.

Jimmie Johnson

The Kansas race is the first in the second – or Contender – round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, so there is time left for him to make a charge into the third round.

And outside the Kansas care center, the six-time champ was thinking philosophically.

“It just means we've got be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega,” Johnson said of the remaining Contender Round races. “And there's still a lot of racing left, other stuff (at Kansas) that can happen, so we'll kind of see how the other Chasers fare. If I can get taken out today, someone else can later on in this event or at Charlotte. We'll do our best to get on track and certainly need 'W's I would assume, moving forward.”

Kansas looked to be a 'W' kind of place for Johnson a couple of days ago. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had three poles and two wins at the 1.5-mil tri-oval in 16 career starts. His average finish of 7.6 was by far the best among all drivers to start on Sunday.

Not much I can do about it. Got hit from the inside and if I can put any blame anywhere it'd be on our qualifying effort on Friday.

Jimmie Johnson

But once at the track, it became obvious that Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 Chevrolet team could be in for a rough ride in the Heartland.

They were only average in practice and on Friday, could manage no better than a 32nd-place qualifying effort.

And that, he said of the un-48-like qualifying effort, is part of what doomed him once the race started.

“Our problem really started on Friday in qualifying,” Johnson said. “If you're going to be in the back in qualifying you put yourself in harm's way and today is proof of that.”

Johnson did begin picking off cars racing in front of him once the race started. He was 27th 20 laps in. But with the race staying green early on, he actually was in danger of being lapped before the race hit Lap 70.

But on Lap 70, a caution was called and Johnson could take a breath.

The race went green and Johnson said the car felt very good.

“We were moving forward and in a good position,” Johnson said. “I felt like our times had us headed towards a top-five finish.

If you're going to be in the back in qualifying you put yourself in harm's way and today is proof of that.

Jimmie Johnson

“Top 10 was definitely within reach, I think a top-five would have been. Our car, just listening to lap times and watching myself catch the big group of cars in front of me I felt we would have been top-10, top-five.”

Then came Lap 85 and trouble.

“I just got tagged in the left rear,” Johnson said. “I heard on the radio that it was the 16 (Greg Biffle), haven't seen the video or anything yet. Cruising along on top and everything was fine and found myself sideways down the back straightaway.”

The 48 was hauled to the garage with extensive front-end damage. Knaus and his crew went to work and on Lap 154, and the Lowe’s Chevy was limping its way back onto the track.

Johnson, however was 74 laps off the pace and chances of joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as a seven-time champion were on wobbly legs.

“Definitely disappointing,” Johnson said. “Not much I can do about it. Got hit from the inside and if I can put any blame anywhere it'd be on our qualifying effort on Friday. If you're going to be in the back in qualifying you put yourself in harm's way and today is proof of that.”

Johnson finished 40th, tying his worst finish in a Chase race, which he did in the 2005 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jim Pedley - NASCAR Wire Service

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