NASCAR — Jimmie Johnson’s hopes stonewalled at Texas


FORT WORTH, Texas — During the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch once pitted from the lead lap under green. He came out of the pits two laps down — and still ahead of Jimmie Johnson.

At another point in the race, Johnson was told the only driver he was racing for position on his lap was Landon Cassill.

What in the quest-for-eight championship world is going on?

Johnson, after an uncharacteristic 27th-place finish at Texas, is wondering that himself.

He didn’t just flat-out stink at Texas. He has posted finishes of 24th, 11th and 12th the last three races. And that best finish was a day at Kansas where he spun twice but avoided the carnage.

“I’m scratching my head, probably more than anybody else is,” Johnson said. “Corner entry, Kansas and here, has just been really bad. I’ve got to let off so soon, it lets people get to my bumper and make my condition even worse.

“And then when I do roll in there as fast as someone, I chase it up two or three lanes or I spin it out twice like I did at Kansas.”

Even on days when Johnson has run poorly in the past, it seemed he would rally. The Hendrick Motorsports team had no rally in it Sunday.

“We’ve got to figure something out,” Johnson said. “Kansas was a lot like this. It was just extremely difficult to drive the car and carry entry speed. And then we had a loose wheel and then contact on a restart.

“We started off in a hole and just kept digging a deeper one as we went. I’m definitely disappointed.”

At one point this year, Johnson went six races without a top-10 finish. He is “mired” in a 21-race winless streak.

“I honestly just feel bad for my team,” Johnson said. “These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is pretty disappointing.”

Johnson faces a must-win situation next Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. Anything can happen, but it appears the quest for an eighth championship will stretch into 2018.

“We’ll go there and fight as hard as we can,” Johnson said of Phoenix. “And that’s one thing this team will never do is give up.”

Xfinity Series: Tight battle to transfer

With Christopher Bell and Erik Jones winning the first two races of the semifinal round, there are still four spots available at Phoenix to transfer to Homestead, because neither is a full-time eligible Xfinity driver.

Elliott Sadler (29 points ahead of fifth), William Byron (24) and Justin Allgaier (20) should feel good that if they have no trouble at Phoenix, they’re in.

The battle for he fourth spot likely is between Brendan Poole, currently fourth, Matt Tifft (five points behind) and Cole Custer (13 points behind). Daniel Hemric (18 points behind) and Ryan Reed (33 points behind) more than likely need to win at Phoenix.

“That five-point advantage is going to be huge going into Phoenix,” Poole said after finishing seventh at Texas. “I don’t know that it gives you any more comfort. … We have what it takes to go into Phoenix and move on to Homestead, and I really think we can win the whole thing.

“We just have to make no mistakes.”

Tifft finished eighth, a spot behind Poole, and knows he will be racing about four drivers next Saturday.

“The restarts at Phoenix are always wild,” Tifft said. “All you can do is put yourself in a good position. … You’re conscious where other guys are, but you also know if you lose a spot, that’s one point that you’re not getting.

Custer had the biggest day Saturday at Texas as he overcame a cut tire early in the race to finish fifth.

“I knew it was a long race — I knew we were going to be able to get it back because we had a really fast car,” Custer said.

Camping World Truck Series: Bell close to clinching

Defending series champion Johnny Sauter earned a spot among the four finalists with a win at Texas, and Christopher Bell just has to finish 31st among the 32 drivers at Phoenix to clinch his spot on at least points.

Bell, who has five victories this year, was a little frustrated at his third-place finish at Texas.

“It was a good points day, but we don’t want to points race,” Bell said. “We did a good job points racing and accumulating all those bonus points throughout the regular season, and I felt like that we could attack the playoffs and try to win races.”

That leaves four drivers battling for two spots. Matt Crafton has a decent cushion with a 19-point lead on Austin Cindric, who currently has five points on Ben Rhodes and 39 points on John Hunter Nemechek for the final spot.

Nemechek is in a must-win situation at Phoenix. Cindric and Rhodes likely will battle it out for the final spot unless Crafton has trouble.

Cindric finished second to Sauter at Texas, setting himself up to make a championship-contending run at Phoenix.

“I’ve raced against Ben since we’ve been in Legends cars,” Cindric said. “I know he’ll be aggressive and I’ll know he’ll be up there right at the end. … It will be a pretty solid fight at Phoenix.”

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