NASCAR Barometer: Johnson Shakes Monkey Off His Back

NASCAR Barometer: Johnson Shakes Monkey Off His Back

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Sunday's postponed Bank of America 500 enabled Jimmie Johnson to banish the demons that have caused his long-standing slump. He won the race and advanced to the final eight contenders in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career under the current elimination format. The win is Johnson's third of the season and comes just one week after he suffered another setback through a mistake that had become the hallmark of his 2016 season. For the next two races, the No. 48 team can rest assured knowing they're in the final eight to win the Sprint Cup.

Next week the series heads to Kansas Speedway where Kyle Busch took the win earlier this season. The track had been one of his worst on the schedule, but he may unload his car there this week while thinking that he has a real possibility of hoisting another trophy to see himself through to the final eight championship contenders alongside Jimmie Johnson.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's run of bad luck finally may be over after he advanced to the final eight for the first time under the elimination format. The team avoided all the mistakes that have troubled their 2016 season and worked their way to the front of the field to command the second half of Sunday's race and score an all-important victory. The team had been on a 24-race winless streak since Johnson last visited Victory Lane. The driver of the No. 48 has three

Sunday's postponed Bank of America 500 enabled Jimmie Johnson to banish the demons that have caused his long-standing slump. He won the race and advanced to the final eight contenders in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career under the current elimination format. The win is Johnson's third of the season and comes just one week after he suffered another setback through a mistake that had become the hallmark of his 2016 season. For the next two races, the No. 48 team can rest assured knowing they're in the final eight to win the Sprint Cup.

Next week the series heads to Kansas Speedway where Kyle Busch took the win earlier this season. The track had been one of his worst on the schedule, but he may unload his car there this week while thinking that he has a real possibility of hoisting another trophy to see himself through to the final eight championship contenders alongside Jimmie Johnson.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's run of bad luck finally may be over after he advanced to the final eight for the first time under the elimination format. The team avoided all the mistakes that have troubled their 2016 season and worked their way to the front of the field to command the second half of Sunday's race and score an all-important victory. The team had been on a 24-race winless streak since Johnson last visited Victory Lane. The driver of the No. 48 has three Kansas wins along with eight top-fives and 16 top-10s from 20 career starts. He has two top-fives in the last four races at the circuit, and the floodgates of top results now may be officially opened.

Matt Kenseth – Penalties were the story of Kenseth's day in Charlotte, but he overcame two of them to finish at the front of the field on Sunday. The runner-up finish at Charlotte was especially valuable given the number of Chase contenders who struggled in the first race of the second round, and Kenseth is now in enviable shape heading to Kansas where he has two career wins. Additionally, he led 153 laps in last year's race before falling down the order and finishing 14th. He started on the front row there this year and finished fourth. With his second-place finish last week Kenseth now has four consecutive top-10 finishes heading into this week's race.

Ryan Newman – Newman had an afternoon to be proud of in Charlotte. His fourth-place finish was just the second of the season. He ran strongly all afternoon and didn't make a single misstep en route to one of his best finishes of the season. The Richard Childress Racing cars were competitive Sunday afternoon, and Newman was able to pick his way through the carnage that played out to work his way into the top three runners with less than 50 laps remaining. To make Newman even more appealing for fantasy rosters, players should know that the No. 31 hasn't finished worse than 11th at the track in any of the last five races at the circuit.

Kasey Kahne – Charlotte brought another week and another good finish for Kahne. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was consistent and consistently quick at Charlotte, which enabled him to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. Kahne has not finished worse than 12th in the last six races, which is a streak that not many would have predicted given his long run of underperformances. Hendrick has had a history of failing to get the No. 5 team to match the exploits of its garage mates, but Kahne now may be making a small breakthrough. Another test will come this week in Kansas where he finished 16th earlier this season. Another top finish might give Kahne the confidence he needs to close out 2016 with momentum.

Kyle Busch – A tire issue sent Busch to the pits for changes off-cycle early in Sunday's race. However, the team continued to fight back, which enabled him to escape from Charlotte with a top-10 finish on a day that should have granted him much less. His sixth-place finish was enough to see him through the week while holding the third position in the Chase standings. The team's persistence will make a big difference in advancing and being eliminated in the knockout format. Kansas used to be a rough track for Busch to visit, but he has overcome those demons in recent events. He has three top-five finishes in his last three tries there, including the victory he scored earlier this season.

DOWNGRADE

Alex Bowman – After a strong weekend of practice and qualifying, Bowman was running inside the top five when a front tire gave way and put him into the wall along with Casey Mears. The contact ended his day, and what might have been one of his best opportunities to score a top finish in the No. 88 car since taking the wheel from Dale Earnhardt Jr. earlier in the season. Bowman's times throughout last weekend show that he could be a driver to watch for in the future, however. Bowman has visited Kansas in Sprint Cup four times in his short career, but his best finish at the track is 31st. This will be his first time at the circuit in top equipment, though.

Joey Logano – Logano was yet another driver to suffer a tire failure on Sunday. The No. 22's failure sent him into the outside wall, and brought out the third caution of the race. He was able to rejoin the fray after pitting for repairs, though that stint didn't last long as another tire failure sent him into the wall for a second time to completely wipe out any hopes of a top finish. The damage of the second hit put the car in the garage and multiple laps down in a terribly disappointing day. Logano has two Kansas victories, but crashed out of the race there earlier this season and finished 38th after leading three laps.

Kevin Harvick – A mechanical issue caused Harvick's engine to shut down at about midway through the race on Sunday. He wasn't able to restart the engine on the track and went behind the wall for the team to make repairs. It was a terrible outcome for arguably the strongest driver throughout the weekend at Charlotte, and he now has his back against the wall in the Chase. Elimination is staring him squarely in the face, and he must overcome in one or both of the next two races in order to keep his championship fight going. He finished second in Kansas earlier this season, and won at the track in 2013. Another victory would salvage his horrific weekend in Charlotte.

Chase Elliott – If it weren't for bad luck Elliott may have had a great day. The young driver was caught in an incident not of his own making on a restart where Martin Truex Jr. triggered a multicar crash. The damage was severe enough to ruin an otherwise stellar day for the No. 24. He now faces the prospect of needing a top run in Kansas in order to gain as much ground as possible before heading to Talladega to keep his Chase fight alive. Elliott finished ninth in Kansas earlier this season. So, a top result isn't out of the question this coming week, but the pressure continues to mount on this rookie driver in his first Chase campaign.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Denny Hamlin – It has been a long time since one of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota machines had a catastrophic failure, but that's exactly what Hamlin's fate was on Sunday. The motor in the No. 11 exploded in dramatic fashion with just a few dozen laps remaining in the 500-mile event, and Hamlin fell out of the running like so many other Chase contenders before him. It was disappointing, especially since he had benefitted from others' issues and was in contention for the win when the engine quit. He now must focus on Kansas where he crashed out earlier this season and finished 37th after starting third. The only good news for Hamlin is that many of his championship adversaries also experienced significant trouble.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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