Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Johnson passes Byron in provisional playoff picture after Dover opener

Jimmie Johnson maneuvered into the final spot in the provisional NASCAR Playoffs standings Saturday, leapfrogging Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron at Dover International Speedway.

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Johnson entered Saturday’s Drydene 311 facing a 25-point deficit to Byron but claimed a seventh-place finish in the No. 48 Chevrolet that helped erase that gap. Johnson also added seven points to his total with top-10 results at each stage break. The swing gave Johnson a three-point edge with two races left in the regular season.

Meanwhile, Byron struggled with an ill-handling No. 24 Chevy, eventually wrapping his day in a lackluster 28th place, three laps off the pace.

Johnson’s comeback in the series standings comes at a familiar haunt, the 1-mile Dover track that has produced 11 of his 83 career victories. He also gets another crack at gaining ground Sunday in the back end of the Cup Series weekend doubleheader (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The regular season ends Aug. 29 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Solid day for this Ally Chevy team. We have some work to do but we will go to work tonight and get it right,” Johnson said. “Everyone did a great job, we have something to build on tonight and we will come back tomorrow and have something left for them. Bittersweet day tomorrow for me – my final Dover race.”

Byron and No. 24 crew chief Chad Knaus will aim to regroup. Knaus was atop the pit box for all 11 of Johnson’s “Monster Mile” victories, including his most recent Cup Series win — June 4, 2017, a span of 118 starts ago.

Erik Jones, the Hendrick pair’s closest challenger in the standings, sits 22 points off the cutline after a 12th-place finish Saturday in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.