Johnson returns to racing, finishes 18th at Kentucky

A week after COVID-19 symptoms kept him from competing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first absence from racing in the NASCAR Cup Series since November 2001, Jimmie Johnson came into Kentucky Speedway pursuing vengeance and momentum for the remainder of his final full-time season in the sport. In the late stages of Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at the Bluegrass State, it appeared that Johnson was en route to a strong finish or a potential win in over 100 races and at one of few race tracks the seven-time champion had yet to check off his bucket list. It all, however, came to a crushing end with less than 20 laps remaining after contact from former Cup champion Brad Keselowski sent Johnson sideways and out of contention.

Starting 20th based on a random draw, Johnson was able to gain four spots prior to the competition caution on Lap 25. Throughout the remainder of the first stage, which went green, Johnson and his No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was able to work his way into the top 15 and was scored in 11th when the stage concluded.

In the second stage, Johnson restarted within the top 15 and was able to carve his way into the top 10 for the first time. Running as high as seventh and following a round of green flag pit stops, a late caution and a one-lap shootout to the stage’s conclusion, Johnson settled in eighth.

The final stage was where Johnson flexed his muscles as he moved into the top five, running as high as third before he settled in fourth. He made a pit stop under green with less than 60 laps remaining. Not long after, the field would pit under green, but the caution returned due to debris reported on the track. Once the field cycled through, Johnson, who had made another pit stop after making slight contact with the wall prior to the caution, was scored in ninth. On the ensuing restart with 30 laps remaining, he made a bold three-wide move in Turn 1 to move up to sixth. He would work his way up to third when the caution returned following a single-car wreck entering Turn 2.

Then, on the following restart with 19 laps remaining, Johnson was prepared to establish a late challenge for the lead when he and Keselowski made contact on the frontstretch that sent Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet spinning in the infield grass. He was, however, able to straighten his car without sustaining any further damage, but the damage was done as Johnson’s shot for a win evaporated. For the remaining laps, Johnson, who restarted towards the tail end of the lead lap, could work his way back to 18th, one spot ahead of teammate Alex Bowman, when the race concluded. Teammate William Byron finished 11th while Chase Elliott, who started the race strong, was shuffled all the way back to 23rd.

With his 18th-place result, Johnson holds sole possession of the 16th and final transfer spot to the 2020 Cup Playoffs by 24 points over Austin Dillon with nine races remaining until the Playoff field is determined.

Catch Johnson in the upcoming NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, an event won by Johnson a record-leading four times, but his first time racing the special annual event at Bristol, Tennessee. The race will air on July 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

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