For much of the Spongebob Squarepants 400 at Kansas Speedway, it looked as if the race would be decided between Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. However, after a nearly 2.5-hour rain delay, a late-race caution and a gutsy call, Jimmie Johnson drove his way to victory lane for the third time at Kansas and third time in 2015.
Johnson’s 73rd career Sprint Cup victory early Sunday morning did not come easy. Earlier when the race started, Johnson nearly spun around and collected his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. who finished third. During the red flag for rain on lap 97, Johnson on Twitter credited his previous dirt track racing experience for the save. When the ninth and final caution came out with 12 laps remaining, Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon stayed out, while Truex Jr., Harvick and the remaining cars on the lead lap pitted for fuel and tires. Johnson held on for the victory with Harvick coming in second, making it the 12th time that Johnson and Harvick have finished 1-2 in a race.
Talladega winner Earnhardt Jr. finished third and Gordon rebounded from a disappointing result last week to finish fourth. Joey Logano, who was first penalized for having his gas man go over the wall too soon before the red flag, then penalized for pitting when pit lane was closed with 80 laps to go, rebounded to finish fifth.
Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth, was the bright spot in an otherwise abysmal night for Joe Gibbs Racing. Erik Jones, making his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 18 car, crashed in turn 4 on lap 195. Immediately following that incident, Denny Hamlin cut down a tire after contact with Earnhardt, then wrecked down the frontstretch on lap 209. Carl Edwards made an unscheduled pitstop on lap 228 with a vibration. Jones, Hamlin and Edwards finished 40th, 41st and 20th respectively.
Johnson’s 23rd career 1.5-mile racetrack victory jumps him to top of the Chase grid. Harvick continues to lead the overall points standings, with Truex in second. Paul Menard, Newman and Clint Bowyer remain as the last three drivers currently in the Chase grid based on points.
The Sprint Cup Series goes all-star racing next Saturday night with the Sprint Showdown on Friday, and the Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday. The next official event for the series is the annual Memorial Day classic, the Coca-Cola 600.