(NASCAR Wire Service)
Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson advanced his chances for a record-tying seventh title with a sixth-place finish in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he had to overcome a major issue to claim the top-10 result.
On Lap 199 of 300, Johnson’s left front tire went flat. He avoided contact with the outside wall but had to make an unscheduled pit stop to change tires. Johnson lost a lap in the process, but two quick cautions thereafter, on laps 204 and 211, helped restore him to the lead lap.
“Yeah, it was really weird,” Johnson said of the mishap. “I went into Turn 3 and got on the brakes and the car traveled and slowed down. It felt like something broke in the left-front, but they said there was a lug nut inside the wheel.
“I guess when I hit the brakes to slow down, a lug not hit the valve stem and took the tire out. Fortunately, some cautions fell in quick order to let us get back on the lead lap. We had a solid car and got up there to ninth or something and some guys ran out of fuel and got us to sixth.”
Johnson heads to Dover, where he has recorded a track-record 10 victories, fifth in the series standings and 26 points ahead of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th, the cutoff position for the next round.
“Dover is a great track for us,” Johnson said. “A victory could be a huge shot in the arm for our team and really get some good momentum going for us. We’ll go there and give 100 percent, and hopefully it’s a trophy; if not, hopefully it’s an advancement to the next round.”
RESTART PENALTY SQUELCHES KESELOWSKI’S WINNING CHANCES
On Lap 243 of Sunday’s race, NASCAR black-flagged Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford for jumping a restart.
Keselowski had edged ahead in the restart zone but had settled into second place behind race leader Greg Biffle, who had control of the restart coming to the green flag.
The resulting pass-through penalty dropped Keselowski well back in the field, but he remained on the lead lap and raced his way back to 12th place, thanks to his own skill and fuel shortfalls that beset other drivers late in the race.
Keselowski leaves New Hampshire eighth in the standings, 15 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th.
“I got the chance to do something again for the first time—the first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I didn’t pass anyone,” Keselowski said after the race. “So that’s a new one, but we moved on, and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover a little bit easier, so that was good.”
Restarts have been a particular point of emphasis with NASCAR and its drivers of late, leading to the positioning of additional cameras and an official to monitor the restart zone.
“We looked at all the data available to us, all the video,” said series director Richard Buck. “We have the senior official on the ground. We made sure the rules are very clear to everybody, especially in the last couple drivers meetings, to be sure we had everybody informed.
“It was very clear-cut in our mind based on the video we had, the different angles that we had. By having the individual on the ground directly across from the restart box, they can really get a good understanding and allow us to feel 100 percent that we stamped it with a very good decision.”
FURNITURE ROW PICKS UP TRUEX’S OPTION, ALIGNS WITH TOYOTA
With Martin Truex Jr. set to remain in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing car, the Denver, Colo.-based team announced on Sunday morning it will field Toyotas in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season.
In 2016, Furniture Row will enter into a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won nine of the last 12 races in the series, and will get its engines from Toyota Racing Development, U.S.A., which also supplies the four JGR Cup teams.
“To continue on and grow the way we’d like to grow, Toyota is a perfect fit,” said FRR president and general manager Joe Garone, “not only from the competition side, competing every week more competitively for wins and for the Chase, but also from a business perspective, to give us the platform to expand the team into a multi-car team.
“In addition, you couldn’t ask for a better partner with a winning record than Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Garone added that it won’t be until 2017 that FRR can take a serious look at adding a second car.
The organization has picked up its 2016 option on Truex, who so far this year has recorded a team-record 18 top-10 finishes and qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a victory at Pocono Raceway in June.
“It’s always nice to know you’re going to have a job at the end of the year,” Truex quipped. “That’s the toughest time in this sport, when contract time comes up, especially when you’re in a good situation, and you want to keep it going, and there’s people out there trying to take your job and get in your car and all that kind of thing.
“These days, silly season in this sport just gets absolutely crazy, and it’s not really any fun, to be honest with you. So I’m just glad that I was able to get it out of the way fairly early and focus on the Chase and focus on next year. We’ve got a lot of things we need to get done, and we certainly don’t need distractions.”
For the past decade, Furniture Row has fielded Chevrolets. The company has been part of a technical partnership with Richard Childress Racing since 2010, purchasing its chassis from RCR and its engines from Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines.
Truex finished eighth in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 and is ninth in the Chase standings with one event left in the Challenger Round.