Jimmie Johnson rather easily continued his streak of being the only driver to make every iteration of NASCAR’s playoffs. But there are plenty of signs that the playoffs will be anything but easy for Johnson and his No. 48 team.
Johnson finished 16th during Monday’s Brickyard 400, an area of the standings that’s becoming all-too-familiar in 2018. His average finish through the first 26 races of the season is 17th. He’ll start the playoffs in 15th position.
When he was asked by NBC’s Parker Kligerman after the race about what would make him a threat in the playoffs, Johnson cited his team’s experience. While that’s a positive, there weren’t many other positives for Johnson to draw on.
“We have a lot of experience. I think our experience in pressure-packed situations will help us. Will hopefully help us get where we need to, but we do need speed,” Johnson said.
Yes, he does. Johnson, 42, has finished in the top five just two times this season and has just eight total top 10s. It won’t be a surprise if the seven-time champion makes it to the second or even the third round of the playoffs by staying out of trouble. But it’ll be quite the stunner if he’s one of the four drivers racing for the championship at Homestead.
Keselowski part of another great Indy finish
Brad Keselowski’s duel with Denny Hamlin on lap 159 of Monday’s race was awesome.
It brought back memories of what transpired in the final laps of the 2017 Brickyard 400 when Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne raced three-wide into turn 3.
Kahne won that race last year, so it worked out a bit better for Keselowski on Monday. But it’s not often that the same driver is involved in great battles for the lead in back-to-back races at a track.
Brake rotor dooms Martin Truex Jr.’s shot at win
Martin Truex Jr. started last because of inspection failures before Monday’s race. He sprinted through the field but his race ended before the first stage was over. Truex had a brake failure entering turn 1. The rotor exploded so hard that the hood popped up.
“I thought I blew a tire initially going into (turn) one there and I was like ‘oh this is going to hurt’, but the car kept turning luckily and I was able to keep it off the wall. Just brake rotor exploded. I don’t know what was going on with the brakes. We had major issues from the start of the race. Obviously, all that kind of compounded into having a major brake issue.”
The rotor was a cruel metaphor for Furniture Row Racing’s week. The defending champion team announced in the days before the Brickyard 400 that it was shutting down at the end of the season.
“We got a great bunch of guys here,” Truex said. “A great bunch of hard core racers. Nobody is going to put their heads down and give up, I can promise you that. We’re going to come out swinging in Vegas.”
Truex will start the playoffs in third with 2,035 points. That’s 15 points fewer than points leaders Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
Bubba Wallace has a brake failure. Again.
Bubba Wallace had a dramatic brake failure at Pocono in July when his car wouldn’t slow down as he entered Turn 1 off the long frontstretch. He had another brake failure at Indy entering turn 3 on Monday.
To make matters worse, David Starr then piled into Wallace’s car.
“It scared the hell out of me for a second and I spun around so fast and I think I dropped the window net before I even spun out to let everybody know I’m fine,” Wallace said. “But after it slowed down and got on track I said we’re done. The brakes blew up or broke or something and we got killed there, it felt, like an hour and a half later.”
Better brakes and brake assembly over the final 10 weeks of the season may need to be a priority for Richard Petty Motorsports.
What in the world, Jeffrey Earnhardt?
What was Earnhardt trying to do making this pass on Landon Cassill at this point in turn 3? No one ever tries a pass in that location. Or, should I say, tries a pass in that location and has it work out well.
That was a nasty hit for both Cassill and Earnhardt. Glad they got out of their cars OK.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.