Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sports

Johnson retakes Chase lead after McMurray victory

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Everyone expects the "Big One" to happen at Talladega Superspeedway.

It never occurred during Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500.

Sure, there was a wreck on the final lap that allowed Jamie McMurray to coast in under caution ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and end a 108-race Sprint Cup winless streak dating to 2010.

But by Talladega standards, where a single wreck usually means a pile of twisted metal and dashed hopes, this was about as clean of a race as could be. There were 103 consecutive laps under green until the yellow and checkered flags waved together at the end.

Still, there was a shuffling at the top of the Sprint Cup standings. Jimmie Johnson finished 13th and turned a four-point deficit to Matt Kenseth into a four-point lead in the Chase for the Championship with four races left.

"Thirteenth isn't the best finish," said Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, "but with what we are trying to do and win a championship, we beat the competition. That is good."

The last-lap wreck in which rookie Austin Dillon, running third, spun into Casey Mears coming out of the second turn meant McMurray didn't have to worry about a last-lap charge from Earnhardt.

"Once you get toward the end, it usually gets more intense and everybody starts taking bigger risks," McMurray said. "I was listening to my spotter, and he would say, 'A line is forming, but it's not very organized, and they're not making up any ground.' I'm really surprised they couldn't put something together to make more of a run."

Earnhardt settled for second, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard and Kyle Busch.

"For some reason," Earnhardt said, "it was a lot calmer the last few laps."

Kenseth finished 20th. Busch and Kevin Harvick are tied for third in the Chase standings, 26 points behind Johnson, with Jeff Gordon 34 off the lead.

After running strong early in the 188-lap race, Kenseth dealt with an ill-handling car and lost several spots when he attempted to make a move late in the race.

"It was really bizarre. Typically, handling is a nonissue here," Kenseth said. "We finally got it fixed that last run, but we only had 20 laps to get back up there. I really needed to be up there like we were early and feeling I was controlling the race more."

McMurray, who isn't part of the Chase, won for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and took a phone call in victory lane from car owner Chip Ganassi, in California celebrating Scott Dixon's championship in the IndyCar series the previous night.

Earnhardt, a huge fan favorite at Talladega, where he has won five times, had hoped to make his move going down the back straightaway on the final lap.

"I guess if we're in that situation next time," Earnhardt said, shrugging, "we'll try to go a lap sooner."

Johnson wound up leading 47 laps, Earnhardt 38 and Kenseth 32.

McMurray led only one lap until he got to the front with 15 to go. He held that spot the rest of the way, showing again his knack for restrictor-plate racing. He has won twice each at Daytona and Talladega, accounting for more than half of his seven career victories.

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