At a track where Dale Earnhardt won nine times, Jimmie Johnson picked up his fifth win at Atlanta Motor Speedway and his 76th career Sprint Cup victory to tie the seven-time champion for seventh on the all-time win list.
With two laps remaining in the QuikTrip 500, Johnson had a five-second lead over Kevin Harvick when Ryan Newman blew a tire on the front stretch to trigger the second caution.
Sprint to the finish
The No. 48 pit crew maintained Johnson’s position at the point for the restart — which sent the race into overtime. Johnson called for the inside lane and pulled ahead of Harvick on the restart with Kyle Busch in tow.
As the field came through the backstretch and the leaders passed the overtime line, a wreck ensued involving Aric Almirola, Landon Cassill, David Ragan and Ryan Blaney.
Johnson came back to the flag followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, who recovered after starting 39th, polesitter Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Harvick.
A special win
“It’s such an honor,” Johnson said of tying Earnhardt’s record. “The chaos at the end, 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 and had to come by and throw a '3' [sign] out the window to pay respect for The Man. It’s a huge void in my career that I never had a chance to race with him. At least I’m able to tie his record.”
Harvick led 131 of 325 laps. The call of the race came on Lap 276 when crew chief Chad Knaus short-pitted the No. 48 Chevy before leaders. Harvick pitted eight laps later but after the lead cars cycled out on Lap 287, Johnson had a 13.631-second lead.
“It was definitely a gutsy call and such a great team effort,” said Johnson, who led four times for a total of 52 laps. “The 4 car was tough and it was going to take some strategy to get by him. He told me to whip it as hard as I could there and I felt like I was going to take too much of the life out of the tires — and it worked.”
Martin Truex Jr., who led six times for 34 laps, was sixth followed by rookie Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who earned his first top 10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Dale Jr. proud of Jimmie Johnson
Earnhardt Jr. was particularly proud of his teammate — despite breaking his father’s record.
“Anywhere Jimmie Johnson ties my dad for wins, second is pretty good,” Earnhardt said. “Congratulations to the 48 team. All the guys back at HMS on the win. We ran second. I’m happy for Jimmie. Heck of a day for those guys.
“We had a pretty good car, a lot of green flag racing. I enjoyed the hell out of this race. I know the fans probably wanted to see more cautions and stuff but I really loved it. We were out there running on those old tires and flying around. The cars were really hard to drive and it was fun.
“It was a real fun challenge. It’s a little bit funner for me because there weren’t a lot of cautions and restarts because sometimes you get lucky on those restarts and sometimes you don’t. We got lucky today and got a few more spots at the end.”
For Earnhardt, who started the race 16th and was fifth for the final restart, the odds were in his favor on Sunday.
While there were 10 pit road infractions, Matt Kenseth’s penalty on Lap 117 for improper fueling proved to be the most costly. Kenseth had led 32 laps before pitting too late, as NASCAR stopped scoring him.
He finished 19th.
Kyle Busch leads the point standings by three over Martin Truex Jr. Kevin Harvick (-4), Carl Edwards (-5), Denny Hamlin (-8) and Johnson (-8) round out the top six.