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Johnson’s Late Charge Gives Him Atlanta Victory

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 1 2015

Jimmie Johnson got the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by David Tulis)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Jimmie Johnson survived an explosion of late-race cautions and restarts to win Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The victory was the 71st of the six-time champion’s career and came in start No. 473.

Johnson, who didn’t pick up a victory in 2014 until the fourth month of the season, got his first win of 2015 in race No. 2. That means he will likely make the Chase playoffs once again.

“I think it is pretty much a lock as long as we have a smooth season,” Johnson said of the Chase. “I think if we win a second one, it is definitely a lock. But this takes a ton of pressure off.”

Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing finished second for the second time in two races in 2015. The 2014 champion led a race-best 116 laps Sunday.

Harvick finished 1.8 seconds behind Johnson.

“This thing was just bad fast,” Johnson, who finished fifth at Daytona last week, said of his car. “I had a blast racing with the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick). He was awfully strong today.”

Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was also strong at the end of the race as he finished third.

“I thought we might be able to keep up with Jimmie,” Earnhardt, who, with Harvick, appeared to have shots at the victory during a final restart with 14 laps to go, said. “I don’t know if we could make a run on him, but we ran over something on the race track. Knocked the whole grill out and it plowed after that. Great car though.”

Rounding out the top five were Daytona 500-winner Joey Logano of Team Penske, who led 84 laps, and Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing.

“We raced hard and raced up toward the front all day,” Logano said. “Those Hendrick cars are fast, and obviously the 4 car (Harvick), but the other guys would just take off and leave me. I did everything I could to maintain on restarts and be aggressive and that’s where we ended up. Overall, we kept the momentum rolling. We’re having a good start to the season, so we’ll keep her going.”

Kenseth said, “We were just off most the day – kind of on and off – and then there when we finally got our lap back to restart 12th or 13th with a few laps to go and we were trying to restart in the front and hold on to what we could and it turned out to be a good decision. We had that short run that kind of put a little bit of a cycle on their tires and evened us out a little bit, so it was a great finish for us today. It wasn’t necessarily a great run, but it was a great finish for us today.”

Johnson had a 1.8-second lead over Harvick when a yellow flag waved with just over 25 laps to go.

Johnson, Harvick and other top-10 drivers pitted under yellow. Kenseth did not and assumed the lead. Also not pitting were Clint Bowyer and Brett Moffitt. Johnson started fourth and Harvick fifth.

Johnson made quick work of Kenseth and took the lead back – until a big wreck brought out another yellow with 21 laps to go brought out the yellow again. A lap of yellow later, the red flag waved.

Among those involved in the wreck Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Joe Nemechek.

The restart order had Johnson P1, followed by Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Truex Jr., Harvick and Logano.

On the restart, which came with 14 laps to go, Johnson, Earnhardt and Harvick jousted for the lead but Johnson finally emerged and then began to pull away from Earnhardt, who pulled away from Harvick.

“We got the restart we needed to, cleared the 88 (Earnhardt) and off we went,” Johnson said.

Jeff Gordon’s farewell tour took another hit – again, against an unprotected concrete wall – when he crashed for the second time in two races.

“I am very frustrated with the fact there are no SAFER barriers down there,” Gordon, who slammed a concrete wall left unprotected by a SAFER barrier at Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks. “I knew it was a hard hit. I was like ‘man I can’t believe…’ I didn’t expect it to be that hard. Then I got out and I looked and I saw ‘oh wow big surprise I found the one wall here on the back straightaway that doesn’t have a SAFER barrier. I don’t think we can say any more after Kyle’s (Busch) incident at Daytona. Everybody knows we have to do something and it should have been done a long time ago. All we can do now is hope they do it as fast as they possibly can.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Hampton, Georgia

Sunday, March 01, 2015

1. (37) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 325, $335901.

2. (2) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 325, $284080.

3. (9) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 325, $184755.

4. (1) Joey Logano, Ford, 325, $198838.

5. (36) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 325, $170891.

6. (14) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 325, $150615.

7. (11) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 325, $152278.

8. (22) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 325, $144284.

9. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 325, $159261.

10. (7) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 325, $144720.

11. (23) Aric Almirola, Ford, 325, $148746.

12. (5) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 325, $107285.

13. (13) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 325, $118085.

14. (10) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 324, $122985.

15. (21) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 324, $132943.

16. (18) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 324, $115760.

17. (38) Regan Smith(i), Chevrolet, 324, $120460.

18. (17) David Ragan, Toyota, 323, $146651.

19. (29) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 323, $145510.

20. (16) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 323, $126593.

21. (8) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 323, $129480.

22. (26) David Gilliland, Ford, 322, $121868.

23. (42) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 322, $110982.

24. (25) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 321, $134768.

25. (19) Greg Biffle, Ford, 320, $130843.

26. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 320, $127018.

27. (24) Michael McDowell, Ford, 320, $95310.

28. (31) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 320, $97785.

29. (32) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 319, $97510.

30. (39) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 319, $126074.

31. (27) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, 318, $96710.

32. (33) Josh Wise, Ford, 318, $94035.

33. (28) Joe Nemechek(i), Ford, 318, $93860.

34. (30) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 316, $93710.

35. (40) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 316, $95035.

36. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 302, $101370.

37. (41) Cole Whitt, Ford, Engine, 295, $93204.

38. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 284, $111105.

39. (15) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 282, $120801.

40. (3) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 256, $110356.

41. (35) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, Accident, 256, $124401.

42. (34) Ron Hornaday Jr., Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 187, $71865.

43. (43) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 92, $68365.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 131.078 mph.

Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 49 Mins, 06 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.802 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 10 for 54 laps.

Lead Changes: 28 among 12 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J. Logano 1-27; J. Nemechek(i) 28; J. Logano 29-48; M. Bliss(i) 49; J. Logano 50-67; M. Bliss(i) 68; J. Logano 69-86; K. Harvick 87-95; J. Logano 96; D. Gilliland 97; K. Harvick 98-138; D. Hamlin 139; B. Keselowski 140-141; M. Kenseth 142-147; K. Harvick 148-176; D. Hamlin 177-189; K. Harvick 190-197; J. Johnson 198-211; K. Harvick 212; J. Johnson 213-225; K. Harvick 226-253; J. Johnson 254-261; D. Earnhardt Jr. 262; J. Johnson 263-293; C. Bowyer 294; B. Moffitt 295; J. Johnson 296-300; M. Kenseth 301-304; J. Johnson 305-325.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 6 times for 116 laps; J. Johnson 6 times for 92 laps; J. Logano 5 times for 84 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 14 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 10 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps; M. Bliss(i) 2 times for 2 laps; J. Nemechek(i) 1 time for 1 lap; D. Gilliland 1 time for 1 lap; C. Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap; B. Moffitt 1 time for 1 lap; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: J. Logano – 88; J. Johnson – 87; K. Harvick – 86; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 84; M. Truex Jr. – 75; C. Mears – 68; K. Kahne – 65; A. Allmendinger – 62; A. Almirola – 62; C. Bowyer – 58; D. Gilliland – 56; S. Hornish Jr. – 55; G. Biffle – 54; C. Edwards – 54; D. Ragan – 53; D. Patrick – 51.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 1 2015
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