Johnson dodges a bullet

CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 10:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Dover White Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 10, 2013 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CONCORD, NC – OCTOBER 10: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 10, 2013 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C.—With two laps left in the Kansas race last Sunday, Jimmie Johnson’s engine began to fail.

Johnson felt the telltale vibration in his No. 48 Chevrolet and began preparing mentally for the worst-case scenario—failing to complete the final lap and falling farther behind NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Matt Kenseth.

Almost miraculously, Johnson’s engine recovered enough on the last to keep him in sixth place. Instead of losing points to Kenseth, he gained five and comes to Charlotte just three points down to the leader.

“It really was bizarre,” Johnson said Thursday. “I was trying to manage how hard the car was shaking with my throttle inputs. Looking back on it, I just got lucky with the parts that were failing. They decided to work in harmony for another mile and a half, where I could use a lot more throttle and maintain that sixth position.”

Johnson doesn’t expect his engine problem to be a recurring issue.

“We had a big meeting on Tuesday, and they walked all the drivers and crew chiefs through,” he said. “It’s amazing how thorough things are in out engine shop (at Hendrick Motorsports). We feel very comfortable and confident that they’ve got the issue sorted out—it was in the valve train—so we’re feeling good about it.”

SHORT STROKES

Kasey Kahne posted the fastest time in opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday, running a lap at 193.805 mph. Kyle Busch was second quickest, followed by Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano, as Chase drivers grabbed eight of the top 10 spots… Series leader Matt Kenseth was eighth on the speed chart, with his closest pursuer in the standings, Jimmie Johnson, 17th fastest. Johnson was held for 15 minutes on pit road at the start of practice, because his No. 48 car was late getting through technical inspection last weekend at Kansas… Kyle Larson, preparing for his maiden voyage in a Cup car, the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, was 12th quickest in the session.

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