Jimmie Johnson was out to send a message to the rest of the NASCAR world that the championship chase was more than a two-car race. On Sunday, he backed it up. Jimmie Johnson takes the checkered flag. Photo by Action Sports ...
Jimmie Johnson was out to send a message to the rest of the NASCAR world that the championship chase was more than a two-car race. On Sunday, he backed it up.
Johnson led 228 of 250 laps and claimed the checkered flag in dominant fashion, winning the Pepsi 500 at his home track in Fontana, California.
The win moved Johnson up to third in the championship standings behind Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and officially locked in his spot in the Chase for the Championship, which starts in two weeks.
"(It was) just an awesome race car all night long," said Johnson, the back-to-back Sprint Cup champion. "It was really good in the sun, and fortunately, we tried a couple of things from time to time to see where the track was going adjustment wise and certainly hurt our car. (We) just put it back and we found a direction with some tire pressure that worked and really didn't touch much all night long and the car was really fast and good."
It was Johnson's third victory of the season and first since taking the Brickyard 400 from the pole last month.
"I think the track came to us," Johnson said. "Instead of us chasing the track, changing, it came in our direction. The car was just awesome all night long."
After leading virtually the entire race, it's hard to believe that Johnson had any doubts about taking the checkered flag. But Johnson said that his thoughts in the closing laps were just about consumed by wanting to finish what he started.
"More than anything, I'm happy to close the deal," said Johnson, who won this race last year and finished second here in February. "It's very, very rare to have a car that dominant. In most cases, you end up doing something stupid, and I'm guilty of that in the past so it was nice to close the deal and lead all those laps and win the race."
Johnson is the third driver to clinch his spot in the Chase for the Championship after Busch and Edwards, who were already locked in.
"To win this Chase, you're going to have to fight for wins every week, and every pit stop is going to count," Johnson said. "You're going to have at least the 18 and the 99 to have to deal with, and I would expect a few others to have their stuff in order.
"I'm happy to see people are considering us as a realistic chance for the Chase and a championship contender because our results have shown that, and we have been chipping away at it and getting closer to those guys. They have set the world on fire. Between the two of them, they have dominated the first half of the season. I recognize that and give them the respect that they deserve for that. I don't like it and I want to be that guy myself."
Greg Biffle led 12 laps and was the only real threat to Johnson all day. He took advantage of some late race restarts to try to make a winning pass, but he didn't have enough to get past Johnson.
"This is a great night for us, the best night we've had all season, except for Darlington as far as car wise goes," Biffle said. "The car was really, really good. (It) drove excellent. (The) pit stops, man, I don't even know what to say. I beat everybody out every time. I just never had that happen before. They have been working on the pit crew and shifting guys around, and it was pretty spectacular tonight. I hope that we can continue that in the Chase."
The second place finish helped Biffle move up a spot to sixth in the standings with Richmond looming next weekend as the final race before the cut-off.
Denny Hamlin picked up a much-needed third place finish that helped him hold on to 11th in the standings.
"We had a good run," Hamlin said. "It's definitely what we needed. We needed to come out of here with a Top 5 finish and beat the guys that we were racing in the points. Definitely this is a good finish for us."
Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five and helped their causes for
"Usually here we finish about 25th so we are excited and looking forward to the next few weeks," Harvick said. "This is supposed to be our worst place here. To come away with a top-five speaks a lot for (crew chief) Todd Berrier and what they have done over the last couple of months to get our car to where they need to be. I am looking forward to getting going in the last 11 weeks."
Edwards and Busch finished sixth and seventh while Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
Bowyer holds the final spot in the Chase by just 17 points over David Ragan.
"It's going to be a battle right down to the end and anything can happen at Richmond," Bowyer said. "There is a little bit of confidence knowing that we have come off of a win there. We're just going to have to have a good week next week."