A timely green flag pit stop from six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was the only thing anyone had for Kevin Harvick Sunday. Johnson short pitted late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and was leading in the final laps. He then survived an overtime restart and won the 76th victory of his career.
Johnson had a 13-second lead with 40 laps to go after the stop that gave him the only chance for a win. Kevin Harvick who had been the class of the field and led the most laps, 131, tried to close the gap but was not gaining in the final circuits. That lead was erased however, when Ryan Newman lost a tire with three laps to go and spun bringing out only the races second caution.
After pit stops, Johnson led the field for the final overtime restart. He was able to gain the advantage on the restart as Harvick slipped back form second after sliding his tires on the restart. Johnson had a clear lead along the backstretch as behind the leaders a multicar crash erupted among Aric Almirola, Landon Cassill, and David Regan. Johnson took the white flag at the line, followed by the yellow that secured the victory.
It was a race that saw the longest green flag run at Atlanta in history, 210 laps, and the debut of NASCAR’s low downforce package that combined with a new softer tire saw some of the best racing in recent years.
“I loved it,” second place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “We were sliding around and driving the hell out of the car. I had a blast. I had some good races there on the track with the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and a bunch of guys. Man, it was so much fun. And I post old pictures online all the time of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and that’s when racing was racing. That’s when it was good. That’s what they saw today. “
With only two cautions, the first for debris on lap 210, pit stops under green were the order of the day and it was the final green flag stop that proved to be the winning move. The stop came as soon as the fuel window opened and nine laps before Harvick pitted from the lead.
“Definitely a gutsy call,” Johnson said. “It was just a great team effort. The No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) car was awfully tough and it was going to take some strategy to get by him. When he told me to whip it as hard as I could there, I just felt like I was going to take too much life out of the tires. But, it worked. And I got rolling around the top and got to where I got this Lowe’s Chevy in Victory Lane.”
Matt Kenseth led 47 laps prior to the halfway point but a pit road penalty and confusion that followed saw Kenseth lose two laps. The fuel man on his crew put a wrench on the back of the Kenseth car while the fuel can was engaged and NASCAR penalized him with a pass through penalty. As his crew chief argued the call NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth and he lost one lap, then another when he finally served his penalty.
It was all Harvick from that point until Johnson’s timely pit stop with 40 laps to go. A pit stop called by crew chief Chad Knaus. The win ties Johnson with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the all time leader board.
“It’s such an honor,” Johnson said. “With the chaos at the end and the crash and wondering about overtime and how it worked these days, I kind of lost sight of that. I remembered it on my victory lap coming down, and I had to come by and throw a ‘three’ out the window to pay my respects to the man. There’s a huge void in my career that I never had a chance to race with him, but at least I was able to tie his record.”
Earnhardt Jr. was second beating Kyle Busch, who had started at the rear of the field, to the line by inches, Kurt Busch was fourth, Carl Edwards fifth, Harvick was scored in sixth.
Truex was seventh followed by Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The full results can be found here. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series moves west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt 400 next Sunday. Live coverage will be on Fox at 3:30 p.m.