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Johnson tops list of Chasers who lose big at Charlotte

October 17, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Five-time champion DNFs, drops to eighth in points, now 35 behind Edwards

Brad Keselowski quickly put his bad Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway into perspective.

Sure, it was bad. But at least it wasn't as bad as five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson's night turned out to be in the end.

Johnson, third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings and riding a wave of momentum into Charlotte after winning the previous week's race at Kansas Speedway, was running in seventh and seemed to be coming toward the front with 18 laps remaining in Saturday's Bank of America 500 when all heck broke loose. In an instant, what appeared to be a solid night for Johnson with the potential to be even better evaporated as Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet touched with the No. 39 Chevy of Ryan Newman and ended up smashing hard and nose-first into the outside wall.

"Midway through the race, I made a bad call and we took four tires."



"This team and myself, we won't quit."


"That one stung for sure," Johnson said after getting examined and released from the infield care center. "I'm just thankful to have safe race cars, safe walls, softer walls. Everything did its job. It was a pretty big impact.

"It's unfortunate that we wrecked. We got into Turn 1 and the 39 [of Newman] was real tight on my outside and pulled me around. From there, I was just hanging on."

Johnson ended up with a 34th-place finish -- his worst of the season. It dropped him from third to eighth in the standings on a night when he was far from alone amongst the 12 Chase drivers in encountering trouble.

Keselowski, for instance, entered the race fourth in points. He fought an ill-handling car all night and struggled to earn a 16th-place finish, with his No. 2 Dodge the first car one lap down.

Asked for his outlook on the Chase after falling to sixth in the standings, 25 points behind leader Carl Edwards, Keselowski replied: "Well, I don't think it's terrible. It's not better than what it was coming in. But I don't think it's terrible. The way this Chase is going, with the 48 having problems they had [Saturday night] and some of the other things that you've been seeing, it could come right back to us."

Johnson now finds himself in the rare position of needing seven drivers in front of him to make some mistakes to perhaps leave him with an opening following Saturday's debacle. He entered the night only four points out of the lead and left the 1.5-mile track where he usually excels, 35 points behind with only five races left in the Chase.

"We just have to go racing. That's all there is to it," Johnson said. "There are five races left, and right now all we have are those five races. This definitely was not the night we wanted. This is not going to help us win a sixth championship.

"But I promise you: this team and myself, we won't quit. We will go for every point we can from here on out and hopefully we are still champions at the end of the year."

Keselowski knows the feelings of frustration all too well after encountering his own difficulties Saturday

"We were a 10th- to 15th-place car. And on your bad days, 10th to 15th place wouldn't be that bad. But then we also got behind on track position," Keselowski said. "We caught every bad yellow we could catch after pitting under green. You just can't make up for that when you keep catching those bad breaks. That's just part of the deal here. It's real unfortunate that it happened that way -- but at least we can feel good about taking the bad breaks and making the best we could out of it. At least we didn't finish 20th."

Or 34th, like Johnson

Or 21st, which is where four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon finished to fall even further off the Chase pace being set by Edwards. Gordon dropped from 10th to 11th in the standings and from 47 points behind to 66 after being involved in the first wreck of the night on a restart with 42 laps remaining, when David Ragan bumped Kasey Kahne and knocked Kahne into Gordon.

Crew chief Chad Knaus took the blame for Johnson's fate, putting it on himself for ordering a four-tire pit stop that cost the No. 48 valuable track position when he had been running second to eventual race winner Matt Kenseth at the time. Johnson came out of the pits in 15th after the call and, while Kenseth was able to make up ground quickly, Johnson remained stuck back there for the better part of the next 100 laps.

"Obviously we've put ourselves in a bit of a hole again, unfortunately. It's too bad because we had a good car," Knaus said. "Midway through the race, I made a bad call and we took four tires. We probably should have taken two tires there and we just had difficulty overcoming that.

"But that happens. It's part of racing. ... The No. 17 car [of Kenseth], he was in the same boat that we were. They took four tires the same time we did and they came back and won. Obviously if we could have had a few breaks, we could have been there with him."

Knaus insisted it was not the result of poor luck.

"It's not really luck," he said. "You put yourselves in the position that you're in and with that one pit call, that's what blew it for us for the day; that put us behind the eight ball and we just weren't able to overcome it."

Like Johnson, Keselowski simply didn't have the cautions come out at the right time to benefit him. But again, at the end of the day, he said at least he didn't finish where the five-time champ did.

"If we just didn't catch the yellows the way they came, we probably would have had an eighth- or ninth-place day," Keselowski said. "We just caught the strategy wrong. I don't feel bad about the calls. We just caught a lot of bad breaks. We still made up some points, at least on Jimmie, and got rid of what could have been a really, really bad day."

Watch below: Johnson slams wall, DNFs