A 13th-place finish propelled Jimmie Johnson to the top of the Sprint Cup standings Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. With four races remaining in the season, Johnson holds a four-point advantage over Matt Kenseth, who finished 20th in the Camping World RV Sales 500.
"You know I feel that the races forward now are up to where the competitors go earn it," Johnson said. "You don't have this luck issue that can take place at plate tracks, so I am happy to have the points lead and we went through a lot of work to get there.
"We just go racing from here and that is the thing I am most excited for. Great race tracks, great race cars and it's just going to be a dogfight to the end."
Because of its unpredictable nature and propensity for multi-car wrecks, Talladega often can shake up the championship order. But both Johnson and Kenseth avoided trouble and were able to leave with respectable finishes. This allowed the duo to maintain the gap between themselves and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, tied for third-place, 26 points behind Johnson. Jeff Gordon sits fifth, 34 points back.
Johnson and Kenseth, however, didn't escape Talladega without adventure.
As the field strung-out in the latter stages and passing became a challenge, Johnson and Kenseth each found track position difficult to come by. And despite multiple attempts by both to make the bottom groove work and advance their position, neither had much success.
"I dropped like a rock for a while and was able to get in the outside lane and start making some spots back and fortunately missed the big pile up on the backstretch," Johnson said."Obviously, was paying attention to where the No. 20 (Kenseth) was. ...Thirteenth isn't the best finish, but with what we are trying to do and win a championship we beat the competition today and that is good."
After opening the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a blown engine at Chicagoland, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s climb up the standings continued at Talladega. As a narrow second-place finish to winner Jamie McMurray jumped Earnhardt three spots to sixth overall.
It was the fourth result of sixth or better for Earnhardt in six Chase races, and his second runner-up finish in the playoffs, though he's still winless on the year.
"I'll tell you, looking at our runs since Chicago, this is the best my cars have been all year," Earnhardt said. "I've had some of the best cars the last five races that I've had all season, and they say they're not doing anything different, but they sure are running really good.
"I think we're right around the corner from winning one of these races, and we're just going to keep trying."
Sprint Cup Series standings (32 of 36 races)
|6||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2202||-52||0|
|17||Martin Truex Jr.||864||-1390||1|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||814||-1440||0|