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Johnson within striking distance after two Chase races

Sep 23, 2013, 4:36 PM EDT

Jimmie Johnson AP

All that fretting about Jimmie Johnson‘s performance going into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup appears to have been over nothing.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 1-2 punch of Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch may be atop the championship after two Chase events, but Johnson has been no slouch either with finishes of fifth at Chicagoland Speedway and fourth yesterday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Yesterday’s performance didn’t have Johnson rallying from pit road problems as he did at Chicagoland, but it was the kind of consistent effort that has been he and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team’s calling card over the years – especially during Chase time.

“It was better than we thought it would be,” Johnson said. “I felt like we were really going to have to scrap for a Top-10, maybe a Top-5. I truthfully feel like we had a shot to win this race, if not run second or third.”

The final few restarts were enough to keep him from mounting a charge to the front, however, as he found himself on the inside lane that proved problematic in those situations.

On the last restart of the day, Johnson was caught behind Martin Truex Jr. when the Michael Waltrip Racing pilot spun his tires, causing him to have to recover some lost positions in the remaining laps.

But all in all, Johnson knows he’s still in decent shape despite the torrid start from Kenseth and Busch, his rivals at JGR. He’s in third place in the standings, and only 18 points behind Kenseth heading to Dover (where he’s won seven times in his career).

“To open [the Chase] with a 5-4 [finishing positions] is great,” Johnson said. “1-1 like Matt has is a lot better, but we’re in a good spot. We haven’t given up too many points, and we’re going to one of my best race tracks next week in Dover…

“…We are getting into the meat of the Chase and where there are some great tracks for this Chevrolet that I am driving and all these Lowe’s guys are working so hard to make it fast.”

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