NASCAR notebook: Specter of Talladega motivating Jimmie Johnson to win soon

Wants to win Kansas or Charlotte to avoid 'chaos' in Alabama.

NASCAR notebook: Specter of Talladega motivating Jimmie Johnson to win soon
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Jimmie Johnson wasn't shy about revealing his game plan for the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

He wants to win either at Kansas Speedway or Charlotte Motor Speedway so he doesn’t have to worry about potential chaos at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Johnson advanced comfortably from the Challenger to the Contender Round of the Chase with a third-place finish in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. Johnson has been a quiet presence in the Chase thus far, and on Sunday, he never had enough speed to challenge either race winner Jeff Gordon or runner-up Brad Keselowski.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion hopes to change that, however, when the series moves to Kansas and Charlotte for the first two races of the Contender Round. Johnson craves a victory at one or both of the two tracks.

“I’d love to win at Kansas or Charlotte to take Talladega out of the mix and not have to stress about that, but we'll see how things go,” Johnson said. “Talladega is definitely the wild card. If I'm one of the guys that wins at Charlotte or Kansas, it's sure going to make the race at Talladega fun. 

“Otherwise, you're just going to be on pins and needles and stressing like crazy. That's the strategy; really try to win one of those first two so you can go to Talladega, pull them tight and let it rip.”

Rookie Kyle Larson, who finished sixth on Sunday, had a different suggestion.

“Hopefully, I can be the guy that wins Kansas and Charlotte so all the Chase guys can be nervous going into Talladega,” Larson quipped.

Clean slate for Hamlin

For Denny Hamlin, Kansas is just like starting over.

Hamlin overcame last week’s disaster at New Hampshire—a fueling problem and a wreck—and raced his way into the next round of the Chase by a four-point margin over AJ Allmendinger.

But now that the Chase field is pared to 12 drivers and reset to equal points, Hamlin can afford to be more aggressive.

“I feel great,” said Hamlin, who finished 12th in the AAA 400. “You never know what can happen. I knew we had a car that was capable of racing our way in, but I didn't think it was going to be that close. We just started fading there at the end. A little bit on the defensive on my part, but still we lost the handle. Just happy this all resets and all starts from scratch again and we've got another life.”

From Hamlin’s perspective, that life is about to become more enjoyable, at race tracks that are in his wheelhouse.

“The tracks just keep getting better for us as this Chase goes on, so we're sitting in good shape,” Hamlin said. “We're as level as anyone right now. This is going to be a great comeback story if we can keep going.”

Momentum for Logano

Joey Logano posted an inconspicuous fourth-place finish at Dover without leading a lap, but the superb consistency of his entire team has engendered optimism on the part of Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

With a victory and two fourth-place finishes in the first three Chase, Logano has ample reason to be excited entering the start of the Contender Round at Kansas Speedway.

“We had three top-fives in the first three races here in the Chase, so that’s important,” said Logano, whose average finish of 3.0 is best among the Chase drivers. “We’ve got to do that again and again to be able to win this championship. 

 “We’ve got momentum. The part I’m most proud of is that we’re executing. Even if we don’t have the best race car, we execute to make sure we have a nice solid finish out of it one way or the other, so we have to keep doing that throughout the rest of the Chase.” 

The only thing Logano regrets is that the results of the first three races don’t carry over into the next round.

“As consistent as we’ve been and as good as we’ve been running I hate to see it reset,” he said. “You’re like, ‘All right, this is three good finishes, a win in there, this feels good!’

“But now we’re all tied again, so it’s like that’s all out the window. It’s nice we’re able to go to the next round, but after that, it’s over and you’ve got to start over and go again.”

Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service 

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