Fuel & Tires: Can Johnson make it 12 wins at Charlotte?

 

Chuck Burton

NASCAR Sprint Cup returns to its home turf this weekend for the first race of the second Chase round while Formula One visits Japan.

JOHNSON LOOKING TO ADVANCE

Martin Truex Jr. won Sunday at Dover for the second time in three races as the Chase for the Sprint Cup field was narrowed down to twelve drivers. Fellow Chase contenders Kyle Busch finished second and Chase Elliott came home third.

Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Chris Buescher were all eliminated from title contention as the top twelve drivers now have their point totals reset to 3000. Following his win at New Hampshire, Kevin Harvick suffered a broken track bar that relegated him to a finishing spot of 37th.

The series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina for Saturday's Bank of America 500, a race Jimmie Johnson has won three times. Overall, Johnson has eleven wins at the track with four wins in both the Coca-Cola 600 and the Sprint All-Star Race. Other multiple winners at Charlotte include Harvick, McMurray and Kasey Kahne.

Johnson, still chasing his seventh Sprint Cup title, would love to punch his ticket to the next round this weekend with a win, something he hasn't done since March. It just may work out for him under the lights Saturday night.

Coverage of the Bank of America 500 starts at 6 p.m. Saturday on NBC.

NEWGARDEN CONFIRMED AT PENSKE

Confirmation of what everybody pretty much figured would happen came Wednesday when Team Penske confirmed it had signed Josef Newgarden for next season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The signing gives Penske the top four finishing drivers of this year's IndyCar standings.

Newgarden had one win this season, but perhaps most compelling was his comeback from a broken hand and clavicle that he suffered in Texas. Newgarden was back in a car in just over a week, finishing eighth at Road America.

The 25-year-old Newgarden will bring the average age of the Penske drivers down as he joins reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud (32), Will Power (35) and Helio Castroneves (41). Newgarden is the first full-time American driver on Roger Penske's team since Sam Hornish drove from 2004-2007. Hornish won the Indianapolis 500 and the series championship in 2006.

The signing now opens his seat at Ed Carpenter Racing, a two-car team that along with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, is looked at as a small team that can compete with the big dog teams of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. I still think Montoya has the inside line to take Newgarden's seat, but according to Robin Miller at Racer.com, Carpenter says he has his eye on about half dozen drivers including J.R. Hildebrand, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot and Sage Karam.

Now that the Newgarden domino has fallen, I imagine it won't be long before we start seeing other drivers confirmed at various teams for next season.

ROSBERG BUILDS POINTS LEAD

While a non-Mercedes driver won for only the second time this season Sunday at Malaysia, points leader Nico Rosberg built his lead over teammate Lewis Hamilton after Hamilton suffered a rare engine failure. Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo took the win with teammate Max Verstappen finishing second and Rosberg finishing third.

What was even more amazing was the fact that Rosberg came from the back of the pack after colliding with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in the first turn of the first lap. Vettel tried to make an overly optimistic move inside of Rosberg and Verstappen and ended up crashing out of the race.

Hamilton had a huge lead and was running away when his engine expired 16 laps from the end. It was only the third retirement for Hamilton since the start of the 2015 season. He now sits 23 points behind Rosberg heading to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton is the defending winner in Japan and has won there three times. Vettel has four wins at the track and Fernando Alonso has won twice while Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen have also won there.

Coverage of the Japanese Grand Prix starts at midnight Sunday on NBC Sports Network.

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