After a comparatively sane start to the opening round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, all hell broke loose at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Jimmie Johnson broke a career-long 24-race winless streak to capture the rain-delayed Bank of America 500. Here are five things we learned on a sunny Sunday afternoon:
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The third-place through fifth-place finishers at Charlotte -- Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson, respectively -- aren’t in the Chase. But they could be spoilers in upcoming races, maybe even stealing a win from a Chase driver. Just because they aren’t in the championship battle doesn’t mean they can’t contend to win individual races.
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Danica digs deep
With little fanfare, Danica Patrick finished 11th at Charlotte, which was her best finish of the year and just her third top 15 of the season. While it wasn’t a victory or even a top 10, it was definitely a step in the right direction, so congrats to her and her Stewart-Haas Racing team.
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Don't hand Toyota the title yet
While Toyota drivers have won 15 of 30 Sprint Cup races this year, the Chevrolets of Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott have shown tremendous speed so far in the Chase, and Brad Keselowski’s Ford consistently finishes inside or at least near the top five. If Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch or one of the other three Toyota drivers is to win the title this year, they’re going to have to earn it.
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Kevin Harvick had engine problems at Charlotte that led to a 38th-place finish, eight places ahead of Denny Hamlin, who was knocked out when his engine blew up. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano had tire failures, while Martin Truex Jr. triggered the day’s big crash. All five of those drivers made it to the final round at Homestead last year or in 2014. If these stars can have such awful days, it can happen to anyone, any time. Like next week at Kansas or in two weeks at Talladega.
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Be afraid, be very afraid
Jimmie Johnson’s dominating victory isn’t the reason his competitors should fear the six-time Sprint Cup champion. But what should scare the hell out of them is how fast his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets have suddenly become. In the entire 26-race Sprint Cup regular season, Johnson led a total of 266 laps. In the four Chase races, he’s led 363 laps. And with his ticket punched to the Round of 8, he’s going to be difficult to stop. The next round has races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, three tracks where Johnson has a total of 18 race victories.