In the Sprint Cup Series, you can win races in many different ways. David Reutimann won the Coca-Cola 600 by using a Waltrip-esque pit call to stay out when the leaders pitted, hoping for rain. Others totally dominate and win.
Then, there is how Jimmie Johnson won on Sunday.
Johnson absolutely dominated the race, leading 298 of the 400 laps. But, getting back to the lead was not easy for Johnson.
On lap 365, the ninth caution came out because of debris. This brought everyone in for final pit stops. Johnson took four tires, and had some issues during the stop. Some other drivers (Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, etc.) took only right side tires. As a result, Johnson came off of pit road in ninth place. In the final 31 laps (including one more caution for David Stremme’s crash), Johnson came back up through the field.
After running down leader Stewart from more than three seconds behind in the final 20 laps, Johnson made the pass with two to go and pulled away to claim his second victory of the year.
The win was Johnson’s fourth victory at the concrete one mile oval, and the 42nd of his career.
After the race, Johnson was very happy with his run.
“The day obviously was a very fun one for us,” Johnson said in the post-race press conference. “We had a solid day on pit road, [but] at the end, we came out in eighth, and with cars in the [inside] lane, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
In second, slightly less than one second behind Johnson, was new points leader Stewart.
“We had an opportunity. We got to the lead there and got by Biffle and just couldn’t hold off Jimmie,” Stewart said. “He was like a freight train coming. I mean, I was surprised I could hold him off as long as I did, but I was pretty happy that we were able to do it for that long.”
Kasey Kahne, using the new Dodge R6P8 engine, finished in sixth after starting second. Carl Edwards finished seventh, followed by Newman. Casey Mears tied his season best with a ninth and Mark Martin rounded out the top 10.
The two support races held on Saturday (especially the Camping World Truck Series race) had a significant number of tire failures. This was often blamed on there being a “green” racetrack due to rains. Rains Saturday night washed most of Saturday’s rubber off the track, but there were not as many failures as people thought there might be. After the competition yellow at lap 31, most teams went nearly a full fuel run on tires. There were a few tire problems during the event, however. Denny Hamlin’s failure and subsequent crash on lap 233 was the biggest example, but Tony Raines and Juan Pablo Montoya also blew right front tires, causing yellows.
Point Standings (Top 12)
With his second place finish on Sunday, Stewart has officially taken over the points lead. Stewart is historically known as a late starter, and this is the earliest that he has ever held the point lead in his Sprint Cup career. His lead is 46 points over Jeff Gordon, who lost the handle in the first third of the race, pitted under green for tires and got caught out by an ill-timed debris caution. Gordon eventually finished two laps down in 26th in his back-up car (the primary car was wiped out due to wall contact on Gordon’s qualifying run). As a result of his victory, Johnson has moved up to third spot in the standings. He is now only 18 points behind his teammate Gordon and only 64 out of the lead. Kurt Busch, despite finishing fifth on Sunday, dropped a spot to fourth in points. Despite losing that spot, Busch was in relatively good position to charge up at the end to challenge for the victory.
Newman took a gamble on two tires during the second to last caution, along with teammate Stewart. Although he could not maintain a placing in the top five, Newman brought his No. 39 home in eighth and moved up two places to fifth in points. Kyle Busch is still in sixth place, but he is unhappy once again. A vibration caused by a splitter malfunction forced a pit stop under green that turned out to be unnecessary. The stop cost Busch a lap under green. Busch eventually finished 23rd. Hamlin dropped two places to seventh after blowing a right front tire and crashing hard on lap 233 while running second. Hamlin was credited with a 36th place finish. Kenseth is now eighth after a fourth place finish on Sunday.
In ninth is Biffle, who, like Kenseth, gained one place in the standings on Sunday. Biffle took advantage of a two tire gamble on the final pit stop to finish third. Jeff Burton is down two places to tenth after a mediocre run to 16th. Carl Edwards and Martin round out the top 12. Just outside of the top 12 is Reutimann, 31 points behind Martin.
Around the 35th Place Cut-off
As a result of the 50 driver and owner point penalties levied against Robby Gordon’s No. 7 team this past week for an unapproved rear end housing, the race to stay in the Top 35 is a lot closer than it was at this time last week. As a result, Gordon was under the gun to produce a good run in order to give himself some insurance.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Ahead of Robby on lap 286, the No. 12 of Stremme got loose coming off of turn 2. Paul Menard was hit and bounced into Gordon, steering both cars into the inside wall. Menard continued on, but Gordon’s No. 7 was trashed. Gordon was classified 33rd at the finish.
This would have given the Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34 an opportunity to gain. However, John Andretti hit the wall fairly hard in turn 1 relatively hard early on, and had to spend a substantial amount of time in the garage. Andretti finished the race on the track, but finished one position behind Gordon.
The No. 82 for Red Bull, driven by Scott Speed also had a chance to move back into the Top 35 with a good run on Sunday, but the No. 82 suffered engine failure after just 118 laps and finished 37th.
Front Row Motorsports, which still holds the 35th spot in owners’ points, has a 50 point lead over the No. 82 going into Pocono next week. Robby Gordon’s No. 7 is only 43 points ahead of the No. 34.