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Johnson: No. 48 not among Richmond favorites

September 05, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Six-time champ chooses Chase rivals to fight for top seed

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RICHMOND, Va. -- When looking for a potential winner in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 (ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET), six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson doesn't toss his own team into the mix.
 
Which may come as something of a surprise given that three of the Hendrick Motorsports driver's 69 career wins have come here.
 
"I feel like the winner ... will probably be either the 4 car (of Kevin Harvick), the 24 car (of teammate Jeff Gordon) or the 2 (of 2012 champion Brad Keselowski)," Johnson said Friday morning prior to the day's first practice at Richmond International Raceway. Harvick and Keselowski finished with the first- and second-fastest laps in that session while Gordon was 21st-fastest.

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His reasoning, he said, involves how well those teams have performed here in the past and how well they have performed this year as well as his own recent record on the 0.75-mile track.
 
"All three are showing speed and all three were really strong here in the spring at various times," he said. "This is one of Jeff's better tracks, one of Kevin's better tracks, and then the same with Brad.
 
"I just feel this time of the year and the way those cars have been running in general, those two or three elements kind of put them up front in my opinion."
 
Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) has three career wins at Richmond, and finished 11th here in April. Gordon has a pair of victories here and has finished 10th or better in 27 of his 43 career starts. Keselowski (Team Penske) has yet to win a Sprint Cup race at Richmond, but was fourth here in April and has three NASCAR Nationwide Series victories.
 
Maybe it's an attempt to put the onus on those three, who Johnson may see as his chief rivals as he prepared to begin his quest for a seventh Sprint Cup Series title. Or maybe it's the sting of back-to-back finishes outside the top 30 in his two most recent appearances at RIR.
 
He does, after all, have those three earlier Richmond wins sweeping both races in 2007 and winning the fall event in '08. But since that last victory, his No. 48 Chevrolet has finished outside the top 10 seven times, including a 32nd-place result in April.
 
Going into the Chase For The Sprint Cup, which gets underway next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Johnson is one of 14 drivers in the 16-team field with a berth already guaranteed.
 
While a victory at Richmond would provide an additional three bonus points for the purposes of seeding the Chase field, Johnson says the task will be a bit more difficult for his own team.
 
"I would love to win; I'd love to be racing for the win," he said. "But this track has been really tough on us for whatever reason. So I feel like I have much less pressure on myself due to the Chase side, but a lot more pressure on myself from the personal side.
 
"I need to figure this place out. There was a point in time when I was competitive here. But of late, this has been one of our worst tracks.
 
"So from my standpoint and the pressure I'm putting on myself, there's a lot more pressure here than you would ever expect because I just hate having these huge weak spots in the schedule and at certain tracks."

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