Johnson Takes Over Point Lead

Jimmie Johnson

Two straight runner-up finishes have lifted Jimmie Johnson to the top of the Sprint Cup Series standings by one point over Brad Keselowski. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Jimmie Johnson has opened up the Chase for the Sprint Cup season with a pair of second-place finishes and climbed to the point lead.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver followed winner Brad Keselowski across the finish line in the GEICO 400 Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway and then turned in another runner-up performance in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We just did all we could today,” said Johnson. “We just missed a little bit of speed and the 11 (race winner Denny Hamlin) seemed to have everybody covered. And after that, we were the next-best car and I just kind of ran there all day.”

Johnson had a shot at Hamlin when a caution flew for debris with 28 laps left in the race. But on the impending restart, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver proved to be too much of a challenge and drove away from Johnson for the checkered flag.

“Just trying to get a good start, and if I could have gone into the corner on the outside of him and kind of pinned him down a little bit, I may have had a chance to get by,” Johnson explained about the final restart. “But once I got into the turn, there's paving seams in the road, and I got my right sides on a paving seam; and I couldn't turn under it and I was kind of stuck on it; the 24 (Jeff Gordon) got close to me.

“I had a little bit of hope for just, you know, quarter of a lap there. And then it was like, uh-oh, don't lose second. And then pulled away from Jeff and got going from there.”

The two straight seconds have lifted Johnson to the top of the Sprint Cup Series standings by one point over Keselowski. As the schedule moves along Johnson feels confident about what the No. 48 team can accomplish coming up in pursuit of a sixth series title.

“We have tracks that have been great to the 48 for a lot of years; tracks that we were very successful at in the spring events,” Johnson said. “The one hanging out there that has me concerned, is the same as everybody else, is Talladega. I haven't finished a plate race this year. You can look at it and say the odds are in my favor and then I'll finish one of the four years. I hope that happens.

“But outside of 'Dega and the unknown there, there's a lot of tracks for this 48 team that I'm very optimistic.”

One of those is next for the series at Dover International Speedway and this Sunday’s AAA 400. Johnson has seven career victories at the “Monster Mile” including one in the season’s first visit to the Delaware track. But Johnson understands even with that past success winning races and possibly another championship is all about execution.

“I certainly look at good tracks and want to capitalize,” Johnson said of Dover. “I think the 11 had that on their mind this weekend and came in here and executed and did a great job.

“You know, when you get to the Chase, you need to execute on your great tracks and get the results you should there, and then on your tracks that aren't your best, you still have to have good days.”

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