Playing second fiddle to Kurt Busch all day, Jimmie Johnson took advantage of a great final restart with 10 laps to go to score his first victory at the Bristol Motor Speedway and the 50th of his career. Restarting in the outside lane with ten laps to go, Johnson jumped up on the wheel and set his sights on the checkered flag. Moving past the cars on two tires, Johnson had little pressure from behind as he earned his third victory in the last four races.
“We have a lot of racing left, there is no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “When we’re winning at tracks that we’re not supposed to, the boys better look out. Even that [No.] 2 car doesn’t want the [No.] 48 to win.”
Busch clearly had the best car on the day, leading 10 times for a total of 278 laps. Yet, when Scott Speed brought out the caution on lap 483, the field headed for pit road for the final time.
Leading them down for service, Busch and Johnson opted for four tires while others behind them used a bit of strategy by taking only two. Busch was able to beat Johnson off pit road, but the two fell in line behind Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart – all on two tires.
Still confident he could get the job done, Busch radioed his crew saying, “I’ve got a plan here… let’s do it.”
Coming to the restart with just 10 laps to go, Kenseth spun the tires on the bottom and stacked the field up behind him as Biffle grabbed the lead. Taking advantage of Kenseth’s bobble, Johnson jumped to the high side and wheeled his way to third, all while Busch was forced to change his game plan.
“I was hoping the [No.] 99 would have gotten a better restart” Busch said. “I had a plan to go underneath him coming out of turn 2, shoot I was on his high side when I got to turn 1. The game plan changed right away. Those guys with two tires [held] everyone up as far as [spinning] their tires on the restarts.”
Much faster than Biffle and Stewart, Johnson made quick work of the two as he took the lead for the final time with seven laps to go. Never looking back, Johnson faced little pressure as he tied legendary drivers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett on the all-time win list.
“I definitely know being on the outside lane was helpful,” Johnson said. “Each lead restart the leader chose the outside lane. At the beginning there were a couple guys that went for the inside lane and it didn’t pan out. Being on the outside was helpful. I was in third or fourth before I exited turn 2. [Kenseth] did not get a good restart. So, yeah, it definitely helped.
“There at the end, when the money was there at the end for that 10-lap dash, we had everything go our way, plus the fastest car.”
On old tires, Stewart was able to hold off the hard-charging Busch to score his first top five of the season.
“We got lucky on the restart,” Stewart said. “Matt spun the tires, we were able to get second there, get underneath Greg, [and] get by. But we weren’t able to hold off Jimmie. So, you know, they did a great job. He was fast all day. It wasn’t like it was somebody that had backed into it.”
Dominating much of the event and looking for his second straight victory and sixth at Bristol, Busch was forced to swallow a much disappointing third-place finish.
“We just got beat at the end of the day on luck of the draw restarts,” Busch said. “That’s what our sport’s about, just random luck on which lane is going to go. I’d rather lose to any other of the 41 cars out there than this [No.] 48 car. I thought we had them beat. I gave it my heart today.”
While Johnson and Busch were the class of the field, the battle for the top 10 was intense for much of the day. That battle changed greatly on lap 343 when Biffle pinched the No. 5 of Mark Martin into the outside wall exiting turn 2. Unable to make the corner in turn 3, Martin drove up the track in front of the pack. In all 13 cars were involved, including frontrunners Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose.
“I owe an apology to Mark Martin,” Biffle said. “It sounds stupid because everybody makes an excuse, but I was having trouble with my radio. That whole run I didn’t have a radio and I didn’t know he was on the outside of me and I ran him into the fence. I feel bad, but I didn’t know he was there.”
Benefiting from the race’s only major incident, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to recover from a pit-road speeding penalty to finish seventh, while Kyle Busch overcame early contact with the wall to come home ninth.
Sunday’s Food City 500 saw 29 lead changes among eight different drivers and was slowed 10 times by the yellow flag. The Sprint Cup teams will be back in action later this week for a two-day spoiler test at Charlotte Motor Speedway before heading to Martinsville for Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500.
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