Although he started 37th, when the green flag dropped 55 minutes after the scheduled start due to inclement weather, Jimmie Johnson made his way to the front in a hurry. Once he got out front and in clean air he was the class of the field, never looking back en route to his fourth win of his career at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The six-time champion did not take the lead until lap 198 of 325, but after he did he led for a total of 92 laps and eventually captured his 71st career win. Johnson is now only five wins away from Dale Earnhardt for sixth most all time.
Also, for what it’s worth, here’s your take it or leave it statistic of the weekend. When Johnson has won one of the first two races of the season (Daytona 500 in 2013 and 2006 and Fontana in 2010), he went on to win the championship in those respective seasons in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano started from the pole and led about the first quarter of the race with ease. But after a competition caution at lap 25, the guys who came from the back of the field (including Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Johnson) were already inside the top ten, with Harvick moseying his way into the top five on the ensuing restart.
The No. 4 car was fastest in final practice before blowing an engine, forcing him to start in the back. It showed once again in the race, as Harvick took the lead from the man he finished second to the week before less than 100 laps into the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
But fast forward to lap 257, when Harvick was starting second on the outside for a restart. He spun the tires, as did everyone who started on the outside, lost major track position and never got back into the top spot.
“I had one bad restart there where I spun the tires on the outside, and we just never recovered from that one […] And then we got behind the No. 55 [Brett Moffitt] when he was kind of shooting for the moon there to go on the restart […] But, all in all, it was a great day,” Harvick said during his post-race interview.
It’s Harvick’s second straight runner-up finish, and dating back to the end of last season, his last five finishes are second, first, first, second and second (Texas, Phoenix, Homestead, Daytona and Atlanta). Harvick has also finished second to Johnson four straight times. You’ve got to believe that him being a bridesmaid has to change sooner rather than later with the speed that he has week in and week out.
Just past lap 300, there was a massive crash in turn three, involving about eight drivers (Sam Hornish Jr., Kyle Larson, Regan Smith, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer, Joe Nemechek and Greg Biffle).
Johnson restarted as the leader on lap 312 and pulled away from the field as Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who eventually finished third for the second straight week) and Joey Logano couldn’t catch the No. 48.
Some other notable finishers included Landon Cassill, who finished 43rd after blowing an engine for the second straight week.
Jeff Gordon finished 41st after being involved in another late-race wreck and ended up hitting the inside retaining wall without a safer barrier. Gordon got out of his car, pointed to the concrete wall and shook his head disapprovingly. Although AMS added about 130 feet of safer barriers around the track, they needed about 140 feet.
Tony Stewart finished 30th, as his car never was handling to his liking and Austin Dillon was 39th after cutting a tire, later bringing out a caution.
Denny Hamlin was 38th after causing a caution after getting loose and involving Jamie McMurray and Gordon.
David Ragan finished 18th subbing for the injured Kyle Busch, who is back at his Charlotte home recovering from leg surgery.
The feel good story of the afternoon had to be Brett Moffitt in the No. 55 car, who finished eighth. The kid isn’t even 20 years old, but he showed the big boys that he could get it done. He and Matt Kenseth, who eventually finished fifth, stayed out on old tires (fresh tires are a premium at Atlanta as the fall off is insurmountable, in excess of 10 mph sometimes). Moffitt was subbing for Brian Vickers, who is recovering from offseason heart surgery and is scheduled to return next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Speaking of next weekend, the race will be held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 8, around 3:30 p.m. EST. The race name is the Kobalt 400 and the winner last season was Brad Keselowski. Harvick was running away with the race before a left front hub broke on his No. 4 car and he eventually finished 41st. Expect the Team Penske, Hendrick and Gibbs cars to be strong as usual.
We saw a team’s car get stolen out of a motel parking lot, 13 cars not able to qualify due to inspection issues and a show on the racetrack after a rain delay at Atlanta. I wonder what it will be like this upcoming weekend in Sin City. It should be a good one, and the boys and girls of the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series will put on a show.
Davey Segal is the host of Victory Lane for Impact Sports