Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are considered as the best driver/crew chief pair in NASCAR history, much in part thanks to calls like the one that was made this past weekend at Kansas Speedway, allowing the six-time champion to grab his third win of the young season in the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Knaus made the call for Johnson to stay out after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clipped the wall with 12 laps remaining, bringing out a caution. Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch all stayed out and did not pit under this final caution. Johnson said the decision to not pit was a split-second, gut-feeling and it was mostly his.
Kevin Harvick, who took the lead with about 55 laps remaining and kept it until this caution came out, pitted along with everyone else on the lead lap. Harvick took two right side tires, while Martin Truex Jr., who ended up leading 95 laps on the night, won the race off pit road, taking a splash of fuel and no tires. Everybody was close on fuel, and was saving for the last green flag fun.
On the restart, Harvick used his fresh rubber to his advantage, but got a tad loose chasing the No. 48 of Johnson with three laps to go and couldn’t get back to his bumper in the next two laps. Harvick led 53 laps on the evening, but came up short of winning his third race of the season and had to settle for yet another second place finish, his eleventh in the last thirteen races. What Harvick and the No. 4 team is doing is unprecedented in the sport, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. But neither does the No. 48 team.
“It was a long, hard night,” Johnson said in his post-race interview. He led just ten laps on the night, but they were the last ten. He actually spun out unassisted early in the race. “Once we got up front, we were able to hang on,” he added, standing in Victory Lane.
Johnson eluded to the night being long because of good ole mother nature. She decided that it was time for a rain shower, delaying the race a little over two hours after about 100 or so laps. But the Air Titans did their job, and by about 11:00 pm eastern time, they were back racing.
The race finished at about 1:30 am, meaning that it spilled into Mother’s Day. Johnson tried to call his wife, Chandra, in victory lane, but accidentally clicked FaceTime. One thing led to another and long story short, his wife hung up on him. Regardless, he wished everybody a happy Mother’s Day on TV too.
“I could tell he [Knaus] was having a hard time making the decision,” Johnson said. “I’m kind of running through the events in my mind. We have two wins, we are locked in the Chase, and we are here to win a race, so let’s gamble. Let’s go for it. Sure enough it paid off. A few more laps I think the No. 4 (of Kevin Harvick) would have had me. He was awfully strong. Obviously being on right side tires would have been an advantage for him. We had just enough time to get this Lowe’s Chevrolet to Victory Lane. Just very proud of the team and the effort that has gone into it.”
“I’ve been on the other side of this deal where the cars aren’t running good and you don’t have a chance to win,” Harvick said. “We won a championship on pit calls and tires and everything fell our way. We’ve had a lot of things go our way and we’ve had a lot of things work […] he [Johnson] was just trying to run right in front of our car so for those first few laps when you’re pushing like that it really takes the air off the front of the car and it gets the chatter in the front end and it snaps around. But that was the strategy they took and it worked out for them.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten. Logano, after receiving two pit road penalties, rebounded to somehow get a top five after starting on the pole and leading 29 laps. His teammate, Keselowski, led 43 laps as well.
Some other notable finishes included Aric Almirola (11th), Greg Biffle (12th), A.J. Allmendinger (14th, after announcing he signed a five-year contract extension with JTG Daugherty Racing), Kyle Larson (15th), Kasey Kahne (17th), Paul Menard (18th) and Carl Edwards rounding out the top twenty in the 20th position.
Danica Patrick came home 27th. Tony Stewart finished 39th after hitting the wall early. Erik Jones was 40th after dazzling everybody watching with his performance, but hit the wall after over-correcting and his JGR teammate and Denny Hamlin finished 41st after hitting the wall due to a flat tire.
This upcoming weekend, the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series have the weekend off, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to the epicenter of the NASCAR world in Charlotte for the Sprint All-Star Race. Jamie McMurray is the defending winner of the race. The winner gets a fat check for a whopping $1 million. No points, no repercussions (well, sort of), just racing for a million bucks. Should be a great show.