JJ Hopes To Race Himself Into The Playoffs

Aric Almirola & Jimmie Johnson

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson got a Playoff waiver from NASCAR when he missed the July 5 Indianapolis race after a positive test for coronavirus.

He just hopes he’ll be able to use it.

After finishing seventh in Stage 1 last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson smacked the outside wall in Turn 4 on Lap 117. Though his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet sustained severe damage, Johnson fought his way to a 26th-place finish.

With eight races left in the regular season, Johnson’s situation is critical. He’s 15th in the series standings, but with 22nd-place Sunoco rookie Cole Custer winning at Kentucky and locking up a Playoff spot, Johnson has no margin for error.

He’s the last driver currently in a Playoff-eligible position, but he’s only two points ahead of teammate William Byron and just 14 in front of Sunoco rookie Tyler Reddick, who finished second at Texas.

On paper at least, Thursday night’s Super Start Batteries 400 presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) presents an opportunity for Johnson to solidify his position as his final full season of Cup racing continues to wind down. The seven-time champion is tied for the lead in wins at Kansas with three victories.

Among drivers entered in Thursday’s race, Johnson has the third highest driver rating at the track (102.3), behind only Kevin Harvick (108.7) and Matt Kenseth (103.1). Johnson was sixth and 10th in the two Kansas races last year after four straight finishes outside the top 10 in 2017 and 2018.

“Kansas is one of my favorite tracks we go to,” Johnson said. “I’m so encouraged as to how we ran at Texas before we had the accident. It was such a rocket. Major kudos to the guys at the shop setting up these cars week in and out for us…

“Kansas has evolved so much, and there is this aging that happens with the racing surfaces on these tracks… they come into their own after 10 or 15 years, and Kansas is now one of those tracks in its ‘prime.’ I find it to be one of the most racy and competitive mile-and-a-half tracks we race on right now.”

Johnson can only hope the racy track produces a mistake-free, competitive performance for the No. 48 Chevrolet.

Thus far, the seven races on 1.5-mile intermediate speedways this season have produced seven different winners. A week after Cole Custer’s unexpected victory at Kentucky, Austin Dillon added his name to the list—and escaped the Playoff bubble—in a 1-2 finish for Richard Childress Racing at Texas.

The usual suspects, however, are likely to be strong at Kansas. Harvick, a four-time winner this year, has the highest driver rating at the track. Denny Hamlin, who has matched Harvick’s victory total, is the most recent winner there. Brad Keselowski is the defending winner of the race.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY RDNECK!

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