Seven-time Cup Series champ Johnson back in the mix

Image by Thacker/LAT

Seven-time Cup Series champ Johnson back in the mix

NASCAR

Seven-time Cup Series champ Johnson back in the mix

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Jimmie Johnson was back in the mix at Chicago for what was one of his best performances of the season.

For just the second time this year, Johnson finished inside the top five as he crossed the finish line fourth in the Camping World 400. It was his seventh top-10 finish of the season.

But Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet also led laps Sunday afternoon, and while it was for only 10 circuits at a track he still hasn’t won at, his time spent at the front marked only the fourth race this season he has led.

Most importantly, Johnson didn’t inherit the lead through strategy or other’s misfortune; he drove to the front early in the day after qualifying fourth.

“Just a solid performance for our Ally team; I’m really proud of everyone,” said the seven-time champion. “I just couldn’t clear the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) — I think his was probably the strongest car tonight.

“The way some of those restarts unfolded, the 88 (winner Alex Bowman) had a great opportunity with the draft and working very well, and got to the lead. Once he had that control, there was really no taking it from him.”

When it came to deciding the race win, Johnson wasn’t in the picture, but he was a part of the race’s overall story. Johnson, who had an average running position of 4.2 in Chicago, spent 250 of the race’s 267 laps in the top 15, only falling out during green flag pit stops and varying strategies in Stage 1.

When breaking down such numbers, the only other race this year in which Johnson has been as competitive was Texas where he started from the pole, led 60 laps, and finished fifth. The other events where Johnson led laps were ISM Raceway (he finished eighth) and Dover (14th).

“I’m extremely happy for Hendrick Motorsports — I can’t wait to see Alex and congratulate him,” Johnson continued. “And [my] 48 team is smiling. It was a good night.”

On the playoff grid, Johnson went from being one point out of a spot entering the weekend to leaving sitting 14th, with a 20-point advantage on the cutoff line.

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