Jimmie Johnson won a wild race at Pocono Raceway to earn his third win of the season. Johnson avoided a particularly high attrition rate, and a bizarre pit road blunder by NASCAR on the way to his ninth career victory. "I am very excited," said...
Jimmie Johnson won a wild race at Pocono Raceway to earn his third win of the season. Johnson avoided a particularly high attrition rate, and a bizarre pit road blunder by NASCAR on the way to his ninth career victory.
"I am very excited," said Johnson. "Fast car, fast team, fast driver. What a great day for Hendrick Motorsports."
The break of the race for Johnson came at lap 168, when Johnson elected to take a gamble on gas and stay out during a series of pit stops. That helped propel Johnson back into the race lead, after an earlier pit road miscue cost him the top spot.
"We had a great race car," said Johnson. "I know the fans don't appreciate it ending under caution, but that's just the way it is. I am not going to complain. I had the dominant car all day.
"There was plenty of steam under this hood today."
Johnson's Chevy was obviously the class of the field today, leading eight times for 126 of the 200 laps. Johnson's team is the hottest on pit road, scoring six top-four finishes in the last seven races.
Second place's Jeremy Mayfield also rolled the dice, took a gamble on fuel, and stayed on the race track while other cars stopped at lap 168. The No. 19 Dodge of Jeremy Mayfield was catching the back bumper of Johnson for the lead, when the caution flew for the 11th time, which sealed the win for the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy team.
"There were a couple of times where you really didn't know where you were going to end up," Mayfield commented. "We gambled on fuel, and that's what helped us and the No. 48. Had a good day overall, and we finished second. It's a great day for us."
Bobby Labonte grabbed his sixth top-ten result of the season, with third.
"We were awful lucky," said Labonte. "We didn't have a good race car yesterday. We had a lot of luck on our side today and that helped out Chevrolet a lot."
Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch complete the top five.
"I'm frustrated with a couple of things that happened to us," said Gordon. "We caused a few issues and we went to the back. We had such an awesome race car. I want to congratulate Jimmie Johnson. He probably had one of the best cars and deserved to win this thing. I want to apologize to the fans.
"That was absolutely uncalled for today to run that many laps under caution and all the disputes on pit road. I'm embarrassed. I want to apologize for that."
A series of pit miscues after a caution at lap 156, once again brought NASCAR and their policies under scrutiny. This weekend, NASCAR changed the rule as to when cars can come down pit road. The new rule states that when the leader passes pit road for the second time, pit road becomes open. Johnson, the leader at the time, passed pit road for the second time but chose not to pit because an official at the end of pit road was displaying the red flag.
Ryan Newman, who was running second, assumed that under the new policy, that pit road was open, because Johnson had passed pit road for the second time. Almost all of the other lead cars followed the No. 12 Dodge down pit road for service. Many of those racers and their spotters claimed that when Johnson passed pit road the red flag was displayed, but it was quickly changed to green, which is why they pitted.
Another lengthy caution ensued, as NASCAR tried to sort out the order of the field. Last week at Dover International Speedway, NASCAR was ridiculed for running 26 laps of yellow, to reset the field, after an accident on pit road. President, Mike Helton apologized this week for the incident, but it doesn't seem as if they have yet sorted out all the kinks in their intricate rules and scoring package.
In the end, NASCAR determined that leader Jimmie Johnson should have known from the description of the new rules in the driver's meeting this morning that pit road was open. Even though there was a NASCAR official at the end of pit road displaying a red flag. That decision sent Johnson from first to ninth, and put pole sitter Kasey Kahne into the race lead.
"I was very upset that things weren't corrected to give us track position back," Johnson said. "Because I was the minority, and 40 other cars did the wrong thing, they didn't fix it. I was very frustrated. You do the right thing, and do what we were told and you get burned for it."
Kahne did not have the horsepower to fight off the hard-charging Hendrick Chevy's of Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers. Both easily sailed by to garner the 1-2 spots. Meanwhile, their teammate, Johnson put the pedal to the metal, and began passing cars, to quickly rocket from ninth to the top- five.
A yellow flag at lap 168, caused by contact between the No. 2 Dodge of Rusty Wallace and the No. 15 Chevy of Michael Waltrip, saw the leaders come to the pits once again for service. The No. 19 Dodge team of Jeremy Mayfield decided to gamble and stay out, gaining the race lead, as did the No. 48 Chevy of Jimmie Johnson, who also elected not to pit to gain track position (and gained second spot).
The race was restarted at lap 172, and Mayfield was no match for Johnson. The No. 48 Chevy easily powered by the No. 19 Dodge to regain the catbird seat. Johnson opened a four car length lead over the field, until Tony Stewart spun the No. 20 Chevy at lap 175, bringing out the eighth caution of the afternoon.
All of the leaders decided to stay out under the late yellow, keeping Johnson in the lead. Race action did not last long, as on lap 184, the No. 12 Dodge of Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Chevy of Robby Gordon bounced off each other, resulting in Newman ending up in the wall as the day's ninth caution flag waved.
"I guess Robby Gordon just ran out of talent," stated an irate Newman.
The accident set-up a 12 lap shoot out to the checkers, but the leaders did not even make one lap before the tenth yellow was unfurled due to the No. 50 Dodge of P.J. Jones and the No. 42 Dodge of Jamie McMurray making contact on the straightaway. Both racers were able to keep their cars off the wall.
With eight to go, Johnson took the green flag as the end of the Pocono 500 was finally at hand. The No. 48 Chevy seemed attached to a rocket, as Johnson pulled out to a four-car length advantage over the rest of the field. Mayfield, however, doggedly pursued the bumper of Johnson's Chevy and within a lap closed on the rear of the No. 48. But the 11th yellow of the day, dashed Mayfield's hopes of getting around Johnson.
At lap 196, the No. 88 Ford of Dale Jarrett blew an engine but NASCAR did not immediately wave the yellow. It was not until the No. 50 Dodge of P.J. Jones slid through the fluid, that the caution was wagged. As the caution was showed, the No. 29 Chevy of Kevin Harvick bumped the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth, sending Kenseth through the grass.
On the following pace lap, Kenseth exacted his revenge, turning Harvick into the grass while under caution. NASCAR decided not to red flag the event, and it was completed under yellow flag conditions.
"I don't know what his deal is," said Harvick of the rumble. "I raced him clean and cleared him and he got up underneath and tore my back bumper. Then under caution he brake-checked me and spun himself out. I don't know why he decided to try and wreck me. He needs to check his ego because it's getting too big."
Point leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished sixth, retaining the top of NEXTEL Cup standings, leading second place Jimmie Johnson by 58 points. Matt Kenseth (-224), Jeff Gordon (-239) and Tony Stewart (-259) complete the top five.
There were 30 lead changes among 16 drivers, and 11 cautions for 56 laps.