WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Here we go again.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship looms in mid-September after five more races, and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson is gaining momentum as he seeks to regain the throne he lost last year to Tony Stewart.
Heading into today’s Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International, Johnson has three wins, seven other top-five finishes, and has led a series-best 956 laps (16.64 percent of the season). He ranks fourth in points but is just eight behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., his garage mate at powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’m real happy with the way things have gone here in the last three or four months,” said Johnson, who dominated two weeks ago in winning the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis and was the car to beat a week ago at Pocono before he spun out on a restart, giving the victory in the rain-shortened race to teammate Jeff Gordon. “We had a lot of speed and a lot of great results.”
The garage has taken note, especially Johnson’s teammates, as the series gets set for the fast 2.45-mile, 11-curve road course at Watkins Glen International.
“It’s hard not to be a little nervous about Jimmie Johnson, (crew chief) Chad Knaus and that 48 team right now, as dominant as they’ve been and as strong as they’ve been,” Gordon said. “You get them in the Chase with that kind of performance, and they’d be at the top of anybody’s worry list.”
The top 10 drivers in the points automatically qualify for NASCAR’s version of a postseason. Chase positions 11 and 12 are wild cards and are awarded to those drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins.
Unlike other years since the Chase began in 2004, there is no heated scramble among the top 10 because they’re well-entrenched. Clint Bowyer is 10th, but he won at Sonoma and is 57 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne.
Montoya wins pole
Juan Pablo Montoya won the Sprint Cup pole for the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International.
Montoya turned a lap around the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout in 69.438 seconds at 127.020 mph to eclipse the track record of 69.767 seconds at 126.421 mph set a year ago by Kyle Busch. It’s Montoya’s second straight pole and ninth of his career. Busch qualified second, also eclipsing the track record.
Jimmie Johnson qualified third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose. Ryan Newman, five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 16th.
Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Nationwide race at Watkins Glen International.
Edwards, making his first series start of the season, beat Brad Keselowski on a two-lap dash to the checkered flag for his 38th career victory, breaking a tie with Kevin Harvick for third all time.
Pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. finished third, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ron Fellows.
Danica Patrick, making her first series start at Watkins Glen, was taken out on the first turn by Ryan Truex, and finished last.
Points leader Elliott Sadler was 12th.
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