It really was just a matter of time, wasn't it? For the first time under the current Chase format, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson secured his spot in the Round of 8 with his eighth victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. "We knew we would get back," Johnson said in Victory Lane. "It was slower than we wanted it to be but to be here today and have this victory is great. We were able to execute all day long here. I just really can’t thank everyone enough that supports us and for all the fans that were tuned in today."
Johnson's teammate Chase Elliott was also poised for a strong finish in the 704, until a wreck on Lap 258 ended his day early. The Sprint Cup rookie led 103 laps and was running fifth when contact between Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon caused a wreck that sent both the No. 3 and No. 24 into the garage. "We had such a good car and I am devastated that we didn't get the result that the guys deserved," Elliott said. "They gave me such a fast 3M Chevy and that is all you can ask for. We just have got to go and do more of that next week." Dillon and Elliott weren't the only two Chase contenders short on luck either. Drivers Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin suffered car troubles that knocked them out of the race prematurely.
Ty Dillon is out, Darrell Wallace Jr. is in - with just one point separating the two. After a hectic race in Charlotte on Sunday, the inaugural XFINITY Chase field was cut to eight drivers and Dillon was one of four drivers who's championship dreams came to an end. "Man, it's heartbreaking," an emotional Dillon said after the race. "We're a team that should have been in the final round and you've got to expect things to happen...That's the way this Chase is built." Daniel Suarez and Emporia's own Elliott Sadler lead the remaining drivers, thanks to their respective wins at Kentucky and Dover. Fellow XFINITY race winner Erik Jones also made the cut, joining Wallace, Justin Allgaier, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed and Blake Koch in the field. Think you know who'll make the next round of cuts? Make your picks here.
Breathing Room? What Breathing Room?
If Sunday showed us anything, it's that the notion of "breathing room" in the Chase might be little more than an illusion. As 2014 champion Kevin Harvick pointed out last week - "trouble can strike anywhere." That certainly came to fruition in Charlotte when nearly half the Chase field was sent to the garage early. While nearly every driver had spoken about the importance of strong finishes at Charlotte and Kansas before cut-off race in Talladega, Sunday's contest proved to be an exhaustive gauntlet the entire field navigated all afternoon. Now the circus travels to Kansas City where there will be even more pressure for drivers to survive and advance in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup.