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Phone call changes Jimmie Johnson's Chase outlook
RELATED: See the Chase Grid LOUDON, N.H. -- Jimmie Johnson felt certain he'd be facing a much larger deficit in the second event of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. A points penalty for his Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet failing its post-race pass through the Laser Inspection Station (LIS) platform last week likely would have dropped him into the bottom four of the 16-driver postseason field. But Johnson said he received a phone call Wednesday afternoon on his way back from his race shop that altered his outlook. NASCAR competition officials had just implemented a midweek update regarding minor LIS infractions, offering a reprieve for both himself and the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team of last weekend's race winner, Martin Truex Jr . "I was just taking my lumps and going on with my business and then kind of Christmas showed up in September," Johnson said Friday after qualifying fourth for Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . "Just unexpected, but happy." NASCAR's competition department announced Wednesday that P2 and P3-level penalties would be eliminated for lesser LIS violations found in post-race inspections, leaving the stricter P4-grade punishments in place for more egregious infractions. Truex, who automatically advanced to the Chase's next round with his victory at Chicagoland Speedway , and Johnson were not penalized in the points standings. Johnson said he was pleasantly surprised, though he knew his car was slightly outside of the allowable measurements for its rear axle offset, or "skew." "I really feel NASCAR was trying to create a penalty system that was more forgiving," Johnson said. "Stuff bends, stuff moves, and they set those tolerances up to really help the garage area and then to keep cars failing out of the headlines. But it's tough. There's a lot of moving parts in these cars and of course we're trying to get as much skew as we can and we failed. "I'm sure directionally, it was an advantage. Everybody will take every hundredth of an inch they can get. I think we were four thousandths over. I don't know how much of an advantage you can get in four thousandths. That's awfully, awfully small, but we're in a world now where it's black or white." The non-penalty kept Johnson in the heart of the Chase's opening round, slotted eighth with a 13-point spread behind series leader Truex. Four drivers will be eliminated from championship eligibility after next weekend's race at Dover International Speedway , where Johnson has won a record 10 times. Johnson's current ranking could be worse had the penalty taken effect, but it could have been better as well. Johnson was solidly on the verge of a top-five finish last week at Chicagoland, but a pit-road speeding penalty on his penultimate stop bumped him outside the top 10. Johnson said he began to accelerate just 2 feet too early at the pit-exit line, sending him over the speed limit for the final timing section and offsetting the performance strides the No. 48 team had made in recent weeks. "We've definitely been showing speed over the last month and a half," Johnson said. "That's been something that's very welcomed and it's been a lot of hard work to get to that point. Unfortunately, mistakes still are continuing to happen and last week was on me." RELATED: Hear Johnson's reaction on the scanner
Bruce: XFINITY Chase intensity ratchets up aggression
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid SPARTA, Ky. -- Was Saturday night's opening Chase race for NASCAR’s XFINITY Series an example of good, hard racing or a case of folks driving over their heads? That depends on who one asked afterward. Race winner Elliott Sadler wasn’t pointing fingers, and race winners have rarely been heard to utter a discouraging word. But the JR Motorsports driver said he did notice an uptick in intensity during the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway . "About halfway through the race, it was 'note to self; you can tell it's the Chase because it was caution after caution after caution," Sadler said afterward. "People were tense, eager, frustrated, nervous. A lot of different things going on with drivers right now ... trying to make it to the second (round). "I think people are giving each other less room. Restarts are crazy in the back." They were crazy up front, too. The race, which kicked off a seven-race, two-round elimination playoff for the series, saw the caution flag fly a track record 12 times. More than one-fourth of the race (64 laps) was run under the yellow. Yes, there was even a brief (5 min., 34 sec.) red-flag period. Erik Jones , the top seed and regular-season leader in race wins, got crossed up while racing with Ty Dillon and both the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ended up in the wall. RELATED: See the wreck the caught two title contenders Each is now outside eighth place in points with two races to try and improve their standing; only the top eight (with the exception of a Chase race winner that might be 9th-12th ) advance to the second round. Not surprisingly, Jones wasn't particularly pleased with the early ending to his night and said later that the aggressive driving does cause one to approach the race differently. "Yeah, it makes me try to stay out of trouble," he said. "I didn't want to have something like that happen. ... You try to play defense some. I was for sure." Of course, there was the matter of a reconfigured track that sports new asphalt and distinctly different turns. That, too, played a role in the difficulties for some. And that was to be expected, said Brendan Gaughan , driver of the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing . "It didn't seem like it was any more aggressive than normal," Gaughan said after finishing sixth. "It's a very narrow race track here right now. That Turn 3 is treacherous, man. There's no grip on the entry, there's no width on the entry. It's a treacherous, treacherous place at the moment. ... "It's still Kentucky. I love it." The fight to advance into the next round began early, but it's not the only battle going on and Saturday night's race brought some of that to light. In addition to the driver's championship, there's an owners title at stake and a couple of teams didn’t forget about that. At the end of the regular season, the No. 2 team of RCR was atop the owners' standings, followed by the No. 18 of Joe Gibbs Racing , the No. 1 of JRM with Sadler behind the wheel, and the No. 22 of Team Penske . Chevy, Toyota, Chevy and Ford. You think those folks aren't paying close attention? RCR brought in Sam Hornish Jr . to keep the No. 2 team in the hunt; Penske handed the reins to Sprint Cup driver Ryan Blaney . Sadler got the win, but a solid fifth-place run by Matt Tifft put the JGR No. 18 atop the owners' standings. JRM (No. 1) now sits second thanks to the victory while Hornish, who finished fourth, kept the RCR entry in the mix -- it's now third. Blaney did not fare badly but the way it all shook out left him third on the track and the team now fifth in the owners' battle. Dover, a fast, unforgiving mile of concrete, is up next. Some folks will be looking to rebound, some looking to continue to ride a hot start. If Kentucky was any indication, they better hope they can just hang on.
All 16 Chase cars clear post-race inspection
WATCH LIVE: Inspection from the R&D Center at 8 a.m. ET RELATED: Full race results LOUDON, N.H. -- Only Kevin Harvick emerged victorious Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , but his other 15 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff foes salvaged some shred of consolation alongside him. All 16 championship-eligible cars won the race after the race Sunday, clearing without issue through the Laser Inspection Station (LIS) platform after the Bad Boy Off Road 300. Those cleared included the winning Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet driven by Harvick, who damaged his car's left-rear fender with a smoky, tire-ripping burnout after his third victory of the season. Only the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota of third-place finisher Kyle Busch went through the inspection bay a second time, and that was due to the car failing to meet the weight limit by a nominal amount. After topping off fluids as permitted in the rules, the No. 18 also was cleared. Scrutiny for the post-race inspection process rose after last weekend's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway , leading to midweek rules updates from NASCAR's competition department. Last weekend, the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 of race winner Martin Truex Jr . and the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 for Jimmie Johnson both were flagged for being outside of the allowable measurements at the LIS station. NASCAR officials responded by scratching penalties for minor infractions. But they also required the full Chase field to make its way through the LIS inspection bay, a process that added a sidelight to the usual busy atmosphere in the post-race garage area. Following stern warnings in the pre-race drivers' and crew chiefs' meeting against circumventing the LIS platform, the new post-race check was largely a breeze. All 16 cars received a thumbs up from competition officials in a tidy span of roughly 45 minutes. As is customary, race officials announced that they would take a handful of cars back to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, for further inspection. Those are: -- Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet driven by race winner Kevin Harvick -- Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota driven by runner-up Matt Kenseth -- Team Penske No. 2 Ford driven by fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski That process will be live streamed on NASCAR.com on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET. RELATED: Watch live inspection here
Recap: Sadler takes Chase opener, advances to Round of 8
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield recaps the first race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase at Kentucky Speedway, where the 1.5-mile oval tested the series best and allowed one Chase driver to advance to the Round of 8.
Chase driver Brandon Jones involved in costly incident
Brandon Jones is involved in a costly incident with Justin Marks, becoming the first Chase driver sent to the garage at Kentucky Speedway.
First Chase race for Jones, Dillon ends in trouble
Late in the race Erik Jones slips getting into Turn 3 and takes out fellow Chase contender, Ty Dillon, at Kentucky Speedway.
Byron wins first-ever NCWTS Chase race
William Byron wins the first-ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in dominant fashion.
Intense restart leads to wild racing among Chase drivers
The NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase drivers go three and almost four-wide on a restart just before halfway, creating some great racing at Kentucky Speedway.
Chase Pistone lands ride with NTS Motorsports
Pistone will make season debut at Martinsville
Nemechek, Byron ready for anything in Truck Chase
RELATED: Truck Chase Grid " Learn more about the drivers in the Truck Chase LOUDON, N.H. -- The inaugural Camping World Truck Series Chase is upon us, which means the pressure, nerves and action that come along with it are set to rise to unparalleled levels over the next eight weeks. So is the tension. After John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer fought, quite literally, to the finish and beyond at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last month -- rguably costing the JR Motorsports his spot in the Chase , as the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet came away victorious in that one -- the consensus is that Custer will find a way to repay the favor to Nemechek at some point during the series' first playoff season. RELATED: Custer, Nemechek get physical at Canada The two-time 2016 winner doesn't see it that way. "I wouldn't say we have a target on our back; we're all racers," Nemechek said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , site of Saturday's Chase -opening UNOH 175 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). " … You can't really worry about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. You just kind of have to take it race by race, lap by lap. And we're going to go out there and focus on our race and do everything we have to do to get another win." Custer narrowly missed out on the Chase cut, ending up tied with Cameron Hayley as the first drivers on the wrong side of the standings bubble. Taking that into consideration, along with how the future Stewart-Haas Racing XFINITY Series driver charged at Nemechek following the Mosport checkered flag, it may be a stretch to think that Nemechek won't be targeted for payback at some point during the Chase . William Byron didn’t cross too many drivers on his way to notching the top spot for the landmark CWTS Chase , but he did cross plenty of finish lines ahead of them -- five, in fact. RELATED: Byron checks off boxes one milestone at a time Unlike Nemechek, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver sees the level of competitiveness rising -- potentially along with the tempers. "I think the competition and intensity is going to ramp up here in the last seven races," Byron said Friday at the "Magic Mile." "We've seen that in the (Sprint) Cup Series and so now we're going to be able to experience that here in the Truck Series, so I'm looking forward to it." Regardless of whether the threat of payback looms large or not, there's an incumbent sense of pressure and nerves that comes along with being among the youngest drivers -- not to mention title favorites -- in the first-ever Chase format for the series. The nerves haven't fully crept in yet, but that could change in a hurry. "We're going to take it race by race and we're not going to let the pressure or nerves get to us unless it's a pressure situation where we have a bad race," Nemechek said. "We're going to go out and do what we do best and that's to run our race, try and lead laps and run up front and hopefully get another win. If you can't do that, salvage a bad day into a good day. You just can't make mistakes. You have to make every day the best you possibly can. In reality, nobody really knows what to expect come Saturday. "I think a little bit of nerves just with the unexpected of what this format is going to be like for us, but honestly it's exciting and it's something new and it’s the new era of the playoff-type format, so I'm looking forward to it," said Byron. "It's something that we've been preparing for and I think we’re going to see what happens here in the next seven races."