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Blown tire ends dominant run for Johnson

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) - Jimmie Johnson lost Indy in the pits. A blown tire cost him a shot at a Pocono win.

Tough breaks, for sure.

Just not tough enough to even put a dent in his points lead.

Johnson salvaged a 13th-place finish Sunday at Pocono Raceway, his worst finish in almost two months, and well behind his other three Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

Johnson, though, actually gained two points in the standings and leads Clint Bowyer by 77 points with five races left until the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field is set. He's tied with Matt Kenseth with four wins this season.

Leading from the pole, Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet's right front tire exploded and he tagged the wall. He was forced to pit several times for repairs.

But the accident came about halfway through the race, so he didn't feel like he let one slip away like he did at the Brickyard.

``It wasn't late enough in the race to have that same feeling as other events we've not capitalized on,'' Johnson said. ``Today was just racing. You have that happen from time to time and it got us today.''

Crew chief Chad Knaus radioed to Johnson that he had no idea why the tire blew.

Knaus put the team to work on the 48 - and it needed more than a new tire.

``I guess I hit so hard it knocked one of the spark plug wires off and I was running on seven cylinders,'' Johnson said. ``We finally figured that out and put the spark plug wire back and then the car ran good again. It was just a team effort.''

Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, refused to blame his team last week after a slow final pit stop stalled his momentum and ended a serious bid to become the first NASCAR driver to win five times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He told his team to, ``let it hurt, let it bother you.''

They responded with a patchwork job that kept Johnson on the lead lap. Johnson won at Daytona as part of a five straight top 10s entering Pocono. Johnson had his worst finish since he was 28th at Michigan.

He also was the only Hendrick driver to finish outside of the top five. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon made it a 1-2 finish and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth. Earnhardt battled a vibration issue in the No. 88 Chevrolet and could have used a Saturday practice to work out the issue. But rain took care of that, setting the field on points and giving Johnson the pole.

``We didn't have a good car,'' Earnhardt said. ``It was not as good as we needed to be. We changed it a little bit from the last time we were here to try and get it better. I don't think we did. It was a little bit loose-in all day and a little tighter in the center and just didn't have the edge that we needed.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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