Johnson Hangs on to Lead

Jimmie Johnson

"We need to be as competitive and as fast as we can possibly be at this point." (Photo: Getty Images)

A seventh-place finish in Sunday’s AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was good enough for Jimmie Johnson to maintain his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with three races to go.

But the four-time champion’s advantage is at only 14 over Denny Hamlin while Kevin Harvick crawled to within 38 points of the top spot in the closest point race since the debut of the Chase in 2004.

Johnson was able to notch the top-10 finish in Sunday’s wild day at Talladega after drafting to the front of the field from the rear with the help of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.

The duo hooked up with 15 laps to go and rocketed toward the leaders, but the run was short lived as Gordon was forced to abandon his teammate with a potential engine issue.

That left Johnson high and dry but he was still able to pick his way around the last lap fireworks to finish seventh.

“Yeah, all in all, great day. I mean, we had a strategy and stuck to our game plan,” said Johnson. “In the end, I had a shot at winning the race, which is what we were after. Unfortunately, the 24 (Gordon) felt like he had an engine problem developing once we got to the front, kind of pulled out of the way so he wouldn't blow an engine in front of me or the field. In the end, he was pumping some oil out and didn't have an engine problem.”

Johnson was disappointed he wasn’t able to complete the drafting strategy with Gordon.

“It didn't necessarily hurt our race at that point, but I wish that he still had been up there in the pack because we were working so well together,” added Johnson.

But, overall, Johnson was pleased with the day’s effort and the fact that with only three races remaining he’s right back in the thick of the battle for a fifth straight title.

“Not a bad finish,” offered Johnson. “We'll take it. As Kevin (Harvick) was saying, it's going to be an awesome championship battle all the way to Homestead. I'm really looking forward to it.”

Johnson understands from here on out there is no room for error. Texas, Phoenix and Homestead – the three tracks that remain on the schedule – all present challenges and Johnson knows whoever wins the championship will have to be nearly perfect the rest of the way.

“We need to be as competitive and as fast as we can possibly be at this point,” said Johnson. “We're going to three tracks that are good for all three competitors. As Kevin was saying earlier, you're going to have to run in the top five to stay in the game. Then obviously take advantage of things and win if you can.

“Ten extra points from first to second are going to be important. Leading laps, leading the most laps, you're going to have to be on your 'A' game from here on out.”

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