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Friday December 15th, 2017 2:45PM

To no one's surprise, Johnson found speed at Dover

By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
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DOVER, Del. - Suffice it to say, Sunday’s run in the Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway was a major source of encouragement for Jimmie Johnson, who found enough speed to post his fourth top-five finish of the season and advance comfortably into the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff.

The seven-time series champion ran third behind race winner Kyle Busch and Hendrick motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who came just over one lap short of taking the first checkered flag of his career.

“Yeah, we had a very competitive car today,” said Johnson, who fought his way forward from a 17th-place qualifying position. “The car was good. we just kind of fought track position and I wish I had done a better job on Friday (in qualifying) and got us up in front there sooner.

“It was so tough to pass… I think whoever came off pit road or had control of a restart was really in the catbird seat. But a great day for our Lowe’s Chevy. These banked tracks seem to suit us much better than a lot of the flat we saw during the summer. Usually, if you run well at Dover, you run well at Charlotte, so we are excited to go to next week as well.”

Ryan Newman Falls Just Short In Bid To Advance In Playoff

The post-mortem on the run that eliminated Ryan Newman from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff boils down to three simple words—not good enough.

Newman left Dover International Speedway with a 13th-place finish in Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400, a result that left him two points short of advancing to the Playoff’s Round of 12. Thanks to a fortunate bit of race strategy that garnered seven points in the first stage of the race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., not Newman, survives to fight another day.

“Well, we just weren’t good enough, as simple as that,” Newman said. “We didn’t have a fast-enough race car. We didn’t have the right strategy. We qualified better (eighth)—that was a plus—but these first three races were a challenge for us. It seemed like everybody else stepped up their game, and we didn’t.”

“You can’t run where we ran the last three races and expect to go out and win a championship. So we’ve got some work to do to build on for next year, and we’ll do that.”

Newman also played a role in the outcome of the race. As eventual winner Kyle Busch was closing on then-leader Chase Elliott, Newman was running in front of Elliott, trying desperately to remain on the lead lap.

Busch overtook Elliott with just over one lap left, and that led to a testy post-race exchange between Newman and Jeff Gordon, who preceded Elliott in the No. 24 Chevrolet and still has a piece of the action at Hendrick Motorsports.

As recorded by NBC Sports, Gordon “thanked” Newman on pit road, a remark Newman took as sarcastic.

“You didn’t think I was racing for my own position?” Newman shot back.

“I said, ‘Thanks for that,’” Gordon replied.

“You said it as a smart ass,” Newman retorted, to which Gordon demurred as the two walked away from each other.

Kurt Busch’s Horrible Luck Continues At Dover

Kurt Busch entered the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff buoyed by three straight top-five finishes and looked to be a lock to advance to the Round of 12.

Then his season fell apart. At Chicagoland, it was a loose wheel and a pit road speeding penalty.

At New Hampshire, it was a race-ending wreck in a dense cloud of smoke, after Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick was turned in front of him.

And on Sunday at Dover, it was an ill-handling car on long runs, an inopportune caution that trapped Busch two laps down and a subsequent commitment line violation.

The result math wasn’t pretty, and Busch was eliminated from the Playoff.

“Yeah, disappointed in the way that I drove all through this playoff run,” said Busch, whose 2017 highlight came in the season-opening Daytona 500, which he won. “I was driving at 101 percent, trying to get every ounce of speed out of it. It just never had a flow for three races.

“The wreck last week really put us in a hole. We needed a perfect day today and playoff stage points. We just really never did well in Stage 1, and I thought that it might be our Achilles heel. If we add up the numbers (that’s) probably where it was. I can’t fault anybody. We ran hard. We gave it everything we had.”

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