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Hendrick Motorsports duo battling for last playoff spot but encouraged by run

Jimmie Johnson had such a good car all day long, but contact on a late restart caused his right-front tire to go down, sizeably affecting his finish position.

LAS VEGAS — Jimmie Johnson was headed for his best finish in months before contact late in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway left him with a result outside the top 20.

Johnson, in position to score his first top-five finish since the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, made contact with Kurt Busch’s car and cut a tire with less than 20 laps left. Johnson finished 22nd.

The result left him six points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to the second round with two races left. Bowman hit the wall earlier in the race and finished 19th.

Johnson entered the playoffs as the 15th seed and Bowman was the last seed among the 16 playoff contenders. Neither had scored any bonus playoff points this season.

Without those bonus points, both needed to avoid problems.

Johnson couldn’t as he raced Busch.

“Off of Turn 2, was racing hard, got loose and I touched (Busch’s car),” Johnson said after the race. “I didn’t think much of it and got halfway down the back straightaway and I could tell I had aright front flat. It was just racing hard off Turn 2 and I cut a right front down.”

Despite the disappointing finish, Johnson left Las Vegas encouraged.

“We were doing well, that was the thing that was most encouraging today,” Johnson said. “I think on a long run we probably had a second-place car. On the short run, (Martin Truex Jr.) seemed to have everyone covered for a large part of the race, but outside of that I think we were a top-five car easily. Very, very excited about that. Obviously disappointed we didn’t close and didn’t finish where we needed to, but it was nice to have speed in the car.”

Bowman also was excited about the speed in his car.

“That is the most speed we have had on a 1.5-mile all year,” he said. “I was running 50 percent … maybe 60 percent that first run towards the end and just mowing guys down. Our long run speed was so good. We were too tight to restart, but our long run speed was really good. So, that is super encouraging, unfortunately we don’t have another 1.5-mile for a while, but we can turn it around at Richmond too.”